Indiana University

Dr. Rod Suthers

Professor of Cellular and Integrative Physiology, Professor of Neural Science, and Adjunct Professor of Biology

I am interested in the neural basis of behavior, particularly the neuroethology of acoustic communication. My research is primarily focused on the physiology of song production in songbirds and parrots. These two groups of birds have very different vocal organs and vocal abilities yet, together with humans, they are almost unique among animals in having a complex vocal communication in which learning plays an important role. By understanding how these vocalizations are produced and their role in communication, we hope to gain an insight into the significance of song diversity, its cost and benefit to the bird and the motor constraints which may limit the acoustic or temporal complexity of song. The exceptional vocal abilities of these birds enable us to investigate a number of basic problems related to the development and neural control of behavior. Some of these issues which are currently being studied in my lab include: the development and coordination of the diverse motor patterns during vocal learning; the role of vocal practice, analogous to human infant babbling, and of critical developmental periods in song learning; the relationship between the production, perception and the behavioral significance of various song elements; the significance of functional neural lateralization in the control of behavior. A long-term goal of our research on avian vocal communication is to bridge the gap between its underlying neural mechanisms and its behavioral ecology.



Representative Publications:

  • Ohms VR, Beckers GJL, ten Cate C and Suthers RA: Vocal tract articulation revisited: the case of the monk parakeet. Journal of Experimental Biology, in press.
  • Suthers, Roderick A., Wild, J.M., Kaplan, Gisela. 2011. Mechanisms of song production in the Australian magpie. Journal of Comparative Physiology A. 197:45-59
  • Suthers, Roderick A. 2009. Vertebrate sound production. In: Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior. Michael Breed and Janice Moore, Eds.  Elsevier Ltd. In press.
  • Riede, Tobias and Roderick A. Suthers. 2009. Vocal tract motor patterns and resonance during constant frequency song: the white-throated sparrow. Journal of Comparative Physiology A . 195:183-192.  PMCID NIHMS  applied for.
  • Suthers, Roderick A. 2009. Signal production and amplification in birds. In: The New Encyclopedia of Neuroscience, Vol. 8, pp. 815-825. L. Squire (editor), Academic Press, Oxford
  • Kubke, M. F., Wild, J. M. and Suthers, R. 2008. Airway receptors in birds. In:  Airway Chemoreceptors in the Vertebrates: Structure, Evolution and Function eds. G. Zaccone E. Cutz D. Adriaensen C. Nurse and A. Mauceri), Science Publishers. Enfield, NH. pp.195-208.
  • Zollinger, Sue Anne, Tobias Riede and Roderick A. Suthers. 2008. Two-voice complexity from a single side of the syrinx in northern mockingbird Mimus polyglottos vocalizations. Journal of Experimental Biology 211:1978-1991. PMCID NIHMS67257
  • Jensen, K.K. and Roderick A. Suthers. 2008. Real-time compensation for formant changes by beak gape in a songbird. Second International Conference  on Acoustic Communication by Animals. Extended Abstracts. Corvalis, Oregon. pp 108-109..
  • Jensen, K.K., Sue Anne Zollinger, Sue Childress and Roderick A. Suthers. 2008.  Anatomy and vibration dynamics of the sound-producing medial labia in songbird syrinxes. Second International Conference  on Acoustic Communication by Animals. Extended Abstracts. Corvalis, Oregon. pp 106-107.
  • Suthers, Roderick A. and Sue Anne Zollinger. 2008. From brain to song: The vocal organ and vocal tract. In: Neuroscience of Birdsong. H. P. Zeigler and P. Marler, editors. Cambridge University Press. , Cambridge. pp 78-98
  • Suthers, Roderick A., Peter M. Narins, Wen-Yu Lin, Hans-Ulrich Schnitzler, Annette Denzinger, Chun-He Xu and Albert S. Feng. 2006. Voices of the dead: complex nonlinear vocal signals from the larynx of an ultrasonic frog. Journal of Experimental Biology. 209:4984-4993. Engel, Sophia, Roderick A. Suthers, Herbert Biebach and G. Henk Visser. 2006. Respiratory water loss during rest and flight in European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, Part A..145:423-423
  • Vallet, Eric, Roderick A. Suthers, Michel Kreutzer and Aurélie Tanvez. 2006. Bilateral motor skills in domestic canary song.  Acta Zoologica Sinica 52 (Supplement): 475-477.
  • Goller, Franz, Brenton Cooper and Roderick A. Suthers. 2006. Respiratory dynamics and syllable morphology in songbirds.  Acta Zoologica Sinica 52 (Supplement): 471-474.
  • Engel, Sophia, Roderick A. Suthers, Herbert Biebach, and G. Henk Visser. 2006. Respiratory water loss during rest and flight in European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, Part A., 145: 423-432.


December 2011- Received Fellow distinction from AAAS, world's largest scientific society.