UMass Amherst Biologist Jeffrey Podos Wins Outstanding New Investigator Award

AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts biologist Jeffrey Podos has received the Outstanding New Investigator Award 2001 from the Animal Behavior Society (ABS). Only one award per year is made, in recognition of outstanding research and promise. The Animal Behavior Society is a non-profit scientific society, founded to encourage and promote the study of animal behavior. The society states that Podos was awarded the title for "his elegant work on the interface between evolution, biomechanics, physiology, and development of birdsong." The award was presented recently at the meeting of the ABS held in Corvallis, Oregon.

"Jeff’s award of the highest honor conferred on a young investigator by the Animal Behavior Society is a wonderful tribute to the creativity and significance of his research program," said Christopher Woodcock, chair of the department. "Past awardees have gone on to become world leaders in animal behavior research, and we are delighted that Jeff chose the UMass biology department to launch his career."

Podos is an assistant professor in the biology department. His research focuses on the mechanisms and evolution of animal behavior, particularly vocal behavior in songbirds, and integrates laboratory and field perspectives. His recent findings on how birdsongs may be influenced by the evolutionary diversification of their beaks was published in the journal Nature. Ongoing research examines beaks and song evolution in Darwin’s finches of the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Podos earned his bachelor’s degree at Franklin and Marshall College, and received a Ph.D. at Duke University. His postdoctoral research was conducted at the University of Arizona.

Podos became interested in the songs of Darwin’s finches during earlier research on songbirds and how they produce sound. Recent studies have revealed that the trachea and beak play a significant role in sound production, specifically in filtering out harmonic impurities of sounds produced by the syrinx, songbirds’ primary vocal organ. Songbirds use body movements, including beak opening and closing, to track changes in note frequency, much as a trombone player does when sliding along different horn lengths. These movements appear to limit vocal evolution and thus shape the dynamics of biological diversification.