Michael Smotherman's Lab
In The Media
Bats Sing Louder Than a Rock Band
Kyle Field bats contribute to research
Holy Romance! Bats Use Love Songs
The Spear-nosed Bat
I am interested in the evolution of social and vocal complexity. These two features are inextricably linked and both require increased cognitive capacity to support increased complexity. Humans have the greatest vocal and social complexity known. Even though a great deal of research has focused on how language, cooperation and complex societies evolved in humans, these topics remain highly controversial. Using animal models can increase our understanding of the evolution of language and our own exceedingly complex sociality.
More specifically I am interested in questions such as:
• What factors contribute to the evolution of complex vocal signals?
• Why do more complex vocalizations evolve in some species and not in others?
• When and how do vocal and social behaviors co-evolve?
• What factors contribute to the evolution of different social structures in social animals?
I use a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates field work, laboratory experiments, genetic analyses and playback experiments to examine behavior, cooperation, perception, and the neurobiology of vocal production. Currently my main project focuses on the production, perception and evolution of songs produced by Tadarida brasiliensis, (Brazilian Free-Tailed bats) in Michael Smotherman’s lab.
Bats are superb subjects for studying vocal and social complexity- they are extremely social, very vocal and have highly diverse social structures and ecologies. With over 1,100 species, bats provide a treasure trove for evolutionary studies. Furthermore, compared to other taxa, relatively little work has been conducted on chiropteran social behavior and acoustic communication, largely due to the difficulties associated with observing and recording nocturnal creatures that use ultrasound. In terms of vocal communication, as mammals bats provide an excellent model for human language, particularly considering evidence of vocal learning and intricate yet highly structured songs (see Bat Song). In terms of social behavior, bats have social structures that range from unstructured aggregations to highly structured stable social groups (see Pup Guarding). Furthermore, whereas in most animals (except humans) cohesive social groups are composed of genetic relatives, in bats highly stable social groups are sometimes composed of unrelated individuals and unrelated bats engage in highly cooperative behaviors such as allogrooming, babysitting, allofeeding (ie blood-sharing), and cooperative defense of territories. Thus, bats provide a unique opportunity for examining factors that mediate the evolution of different social structures, cooperation, particularly in the absence of kinship, and associated cognitive abilities.
Kirsten received her B.S. degree in Ecology, Animal Behavior and Evolution from the University of California at San Diego in 1994. She received her M.S. degree in Zoology at Idaho State University in 1999, where she used acoustic monitoring and radiotransmitters to study the effects of timber harvesting on bats. After her Master’s degree she went on to get a Ph.D. at the University of Maryland where she worked under Dr. Gerald Wilkinson and Dr. Cynthia Moss. This research led to the discovery of “pup guarding”, a form of cooperative care, in which adults defend unrelated pups from their social groups from adults from other groups that attack and sometimes kill them. After completing her Ph.D. she conducted postdoctoral research on vocal communication in Brazilian free-tailed bats in the laboratory of Dr. George Pollak at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research at UT Austin revealed a rich vocal repertoire in Brazilian free-tailed bats that is highly specific to behavioral context. She actively collaborates with researchers at Bat Conservation International and is currently continuing research on free-tailed bats as a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Smotherman and is focusing on the perception, evolution and production of male song- a complex yet highly stereotyped courtship signal (see Bat Song).
Jarvis, J., Bohn, K.M., Tressler, J. and M. Smotherman. 2010. Antiphonal
echolocation strategies used by free-tailed bats. Animal Behaviour, 79:
787-796. (A featured article in Animal Behaviour 79:769-770) (pdf) (editorial review)
Bohn KM, Schmidt-French B, Schwartz C, Smotherman M, Pollak GD (2009)
Versatility and Stereotypy of Free-Tailed Bat Songs. PLoS ONE 4(8): e6746. (pdf)
Bohn, K. M., Moss, C.F., and G. S. Wilkinson. 2009. Pup guarding by unrelated greater spear-nosed bats. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 63:1693-1703.(pdf).
Bohn, K.M., Schmidt-French, B., Ma, T.S. and G. D.Pollak. 2008. Syllable acoustics, temporal patterns and call composition vary with behavioral context in Mexican free-tailed bats. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 124:1838 - 1848. (pdf)
Bohn, K. M., Wilkinson, G. S. and C. F. Moss. 2007. Discrimination of infant isolation calls by female greater spear-nosed bats, Phyllostomus hastatus. Animal Behaviour 73:423 – 432 (pdf)
Bohn, K. M., Moss, C. F. and G. S. Wilkinson. 2006. Correlated evolution between hearing sensitivity and social calls in bats. Biology Letters 2:561 - 564. (pdf)
Bohn, K. M., Boughman, J. W., Wilkinson, G. S., and C. F. Moss. 2004. Auditory sensitivity and frequency selectivity in greater spear-nosed bats suggest specializations for acoustic communication. Journal of Comparative Physiology. A. 190:185-192.(pdf)