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 Lauren Riters

Lauren V. Riters


Research  |  Teaching  |  Publications 

428 Birge Hall
Office: (608)262-6506

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Research Interests

The primary focus of research in my lab is on the neural regulation of vocal communication. My lab members and I study songbirds to understand 1) how the brain ensures that communication takes place within an appropriate context in response to appropriate social stimuli, 2) how the brain regulates motivation or reward associated with communication, and 3) how the brain regulates selective behavioral responses to communication signals. We are particularly interested in how the brain’s natural motivation and reward systems (the same systems implicated in feeding, sexual behavior, and drug abuse in humans) also participate in the production of vocal communication and responses to vocal signals.

My research integrates semi-natural behavioral observations of aviary housed birds with neuroscience laboratory techniques. Scientific methods include quantitative real-time PCR, gene silencing (siRNA), immunocytochemistry, site-directed and systemic pharmacological manipulations, lesioning techniques, neuroanatomical tract tracing, and hormone assays. Most studies use European starlings but studies from the lab also include zebra finches, black-capped chickadees, house sparrows, and northern loons (in collaboration with Dr. Walter Piper).

Openings for Graduate Students

I welcome highly motivated graduate students with diverse interests in animal behavior or behavioral neuroscience related to animal communication and other social behaviors.


  • Introductory Biology - (Biol / Zool 101)
  • Endocrinology - (Zool 603)
  • Seminar in Behavioral Neuroendocrinology
  • Seminar in Behavioral Neuroscience


Graduate Students currently supervised

  • Jeremy Spool – Research focus: Social status, neuroendocrinology and vocal communication
  • Devin Merullo– Research focus: The role of neurotensin in male song produced in distinct social contexts

Students supervised who recently earned graduate degrees

  • Melissa Cordes (Ph.D. 2014) Current position: Assistant Professor, Bethel University, Minnesota
  • Cynthia A. Kelm-Nelson (Ph.D. 2012) Current position: Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • Benjamin A. Pawlisch (Ph.D. 2012) Current position: Lecturer, Madison College
  • Sarah Jane Alger (Ph.D. 2010) Current position: Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin Stevens Point )
  • Stephen R. Bowman (M.S. 2009) Current position: Van Andel Institute, Michigan)
  • Sarah A. Heimovics (Ph.D. 2008) Current position: Assistant Professor, University of St. Thomas, Minnesota
  • Molly B. Schroeder (M.S. 2004)

Current and former postdoctoral fellows and scientists

  • Dr. Allison Hahn, Postdoctoral Fellow (2015-present)
  • Dr. Changjiu Zhao, Assistant Scientist (2015-present)
  • Dr. M. Susan DeVries, Postdoctoral Fellow (2013-2015) Current position: Adjunct Professor at Edgewood College, Madison, WI
  • Dr. Jesse M.S. Ellis, Postdoctoral Fellow (2009 – 2012) Current position: Assistant professor, Coe College, Iowa
  • Dr. Catherine J. Auger, Assistant Scientist (2004 – 2006) Current position: Neurobiology Major Coordinator, University of Wisconsin--Madison


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