Lauren Riters


428 Birge Hall

Research Areas
Animal Behavior, Neuroscience, Physiology

Lauren Riters

Research Interests

The focus of research in my lab is on the neural regulation of vocal communication in songbirds.  My lab members and I are interested in 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, 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 ranging from animal behavior to neuroscience.


Endocrinology (Zool 603)

Introductory Biology (Biol/Zool 101)

Seminar in Behavioral Neuroendocrinology

Seminar in Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Link to Publications in PubMed

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 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: Assistant Professor, Adrian College, Michigan

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 (2015-2017) Current position: Visiting Assistant Professor, St. Norbert College, Wisconsin

Dr. Changjiu Zhao, Assistant Scientist (2015-2016)

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