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Undergraduate Research Day 2016

2016 Abstracts

Birdsong, Music, and Value Judgments

Catherine Cloetta and Dr. Jonathan Prather

Department of Zoology and Physiology

University of Wyoming

Oral Presentation

Honors Jackson, WY

Can birdsong be classified as music? This is a question posed by ornithologists and musicologists alike, and one that integrates the disciplines of science and philosophy in its quest for an answer. The task of answering such a question is complicated by the broad spectrum of behavior that is birdsong and the lack of an indisputable definition of music. After examining the essentials of music and the basics of birdsong, I observed significant parallels between the two. The question, “Is birdsong music?” is ultimately subjective. How does one make such a judgment? When listening to music, it doesn’t take long to start tapping a foot, or conversely, hit the “skip” button. In this short period, there is undoubtedly an intricate network of synapses that play their part in integrating external experience and motor action. Birds also make judgments, not with regard to whether birdsong is music, but to whether they value a particular song. Our lab is embarking on an optogenetic study of the avian brain (specifically the caudal mesopallium, where there are high-order sensory neurons specialized for processing song features) to understand how female Bengalese finches (Lonchura striata domestica) assign value to their male counterparts on the basis of song alone. The circuitry that underlies song preference demonstrated by female Bengalese finches may provide insight into the value judgments made by human beings, if only to the slightest degree. Deciphering this aspect of human cognition could shed light on how we answer such philosophical inquiries as, “Is birdsong music?”


Understanding the Human-Elephant Conflict in India: A First-hand Perspective

Anne N. Reed1, Dr. Ramesh Sivanpillai2

1. Department of Zoology and Physiology, 2. Department of Botany & WyGISC

University of Wyoming

Oral presentation

Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources Cheyenne, WY

UW Center for Global Studies

Numerous incidents of human-elephant conflict occur in India, especially in ecological hotspots. In Southern India there are many conflicts that occur between the wildlife and humans, however, one of the largest, in terms of impact, which has been escalating since the 1980s is the human-elephant conflict. Loss of habitat due to fragmentation and land conversion are forcing the elephants into urban areas in search of food and water. Elephants raid crop fields and farmers have been trying various approaches such as digging trenching and erecting electric fences to prevent these animals from destroying their livelihood. Following a literature-based research, we visited Coimbatore, India in summer 2015. Talking to stakeholders and witnessing these sites in person provided insights about the magnitude of this problem, and how it is impacting human lives. This presentation will highlight the first-hand knowledge gained from visiting this conflict zone.


Pip’s Spatial Education in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations

Roslyn Fleming

Michael Edson

English Department

University of Wyoming

Oral Presentation

English Honors Program Ringoes, New Jersey

The concept of “spatial education” explains character actions and transformations in literary texts. In Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations (1861), the main character Pip observes how people function in different environments, thereby learning that certain behaviors, attitudes, and interactions proliferate in each space and in the process, learning that his own expectations of environments need to be modified. Although scholars have discussed spaces’ representation and how spaces and characters reflect one another, it is important also to understand how physical spaces foster particular interactions and behaviors that disrupt ascriptions of class identities/characteristics to those spaces. When we study the interactions, spaces, and characters of certain locations, we recognize Pip’s changing expectations and behaviors that allow him to successfully operate in each space. Pip’s observations of the interactions at the workplace and home of Jaggers, the London lawyer, and the physical appearances of these spaces evade Pip’s expectations of what it means to live/work in London. In contrast to Jaggers’s office is Pip’s residences, Barnard’s Inn and the Temple, which reveal Pip’s learning process of what it means to be a London gentleman, as he adopts certain behaviors and fashions his homes in particular styles. Pip’s experiences at the class-ambiguous marshes, raise expectations that the London gentlemen class live in environments that mirror their socioeconomic standing. However, Pip’s spatial education in the novel demonstrates a person’s qualities cannot be deduced by their class association nor can class identity be assumed by one’s possessions and behaviors.

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