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I am interested in social behavior, learning and their physiological substrates.
Currently, I am working with Syrian (golden) hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) and Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus). The ancestral stock of these two domesticated rodent species came from very different environments: arid for hamsters, mesic (moist) for rats. There seem to be different physical and physiological adaptations associated with those different conditions. Hamsters have cheek pouches for carrying large quantities of food to store in their burrows. Rats do not amass large stores of food in their burrows. Hamsters also conserve water by producing extremely concentrated urine. We have investigated differences in motivation to work for food and water in these two species.
I have also worked with golden hamsters because of their extensive use of body odors in social communication. Using olfactory cues present in tiny amounts of glandular secretions, hamsters and many other species can easily tell a male from a female. Moreover, golden hamsters appear able to recognize their relatives (even if they have not met them before) and distinguish between otherwise similar individuals, a phenomenon known in the scientific literature as individual recognition. My recent research concerns hamsters' social learning and social memory, the very basis upon which social behavior and social organization rests.
This leads to the interesting question of how the mammalian brain processes information about our social companions. I have investigated the role of the parts of the cerebral cortex and of subcortical areas such as the amygdala in discrimination of individual odors and in learning and remembering sexual and aggressive interactions.
Before these lines of work, I studied social behavior in primates. Among those primate species were titi monkeys (Callicebus moloch), squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus), and vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops).
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