College of Arts and Sciences Department of Biology
Michael H. Ferkin
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Michael Ferkin
Professor
Ph.D. Boston University
Postdoctoral Fellow, Cornell University
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California, Berkeley
Phone: (901) 678-3509
Fax: (901) 678-4746
E-Mail: mhferkin@memphis.edu
University of Memphis
Department of Biology
3700 Walker Avenue
Memphis, TN USA 38152
 Laboratory Web Page

Research Interests:
Animal behavior, Communication, Behavioral Endocrinology, Behavioral Ecology

My research centers on communication, social interactions, and sexual behavior. My approach to research uses as its framework, Tinbergens’s four levels of analysis to answer questions about the physiological mechanisms, the ontogenetic components, function, and phylogenetic influences on behavior, principally among microtine rodents.

Microtine rodents are best known for their unique population dynamics that include spectacular increases in population density (more than 15,000 voles/hectare) followed by equally remarkable "crashes" (less than l vole/hectare). Although, the causes of microtine population fluctuations remain hidden, many researchers stress the importance of behavioral interactions as a mechanism that regulates vole demography. It has been hypothesized that seasonal plasticity of behavior and reproduction among individuals profoundly affect microtine social organization and demography. My approach to the study of animal behavior includes both proximate and ultimate levels of analysis.

My research focuses on the intricacies of social interactions and addresses questions closely aligned to the regulation of population density through behavioral interactions. One aspect of my work examines the relationship between odor cues, scent marks and over-marks and behavioral interactions among voles.

This relationship is affected by the time of year, the sex, identity, and condition of the senders and receivers of such information. Briefly, we have discovered that food availability affects scent marking and reproductive behavior of voles. We have also discovered that during copulations, males exposed to scent marks of conspecific males increase their sperm investment 116% relative to males that were not exposed to such scent marks. A second aspect of my research studies the environmental cues and the physiological mechanisms that mediate the seasonal shift in sexual and social behavior in microtine rodents. We study how behavior affects the endocrinology of voles and how the endocrinology of voles affects their behavior.

Specifically, we assess relationships among photoperiod, pituitary, pineal, and ovarian hormones, and behavior. A third aspect of my research investigates how voles process olfactory information and how they use such information to distinguish and respond preferentially to particular conspecifics, make sense of areas containing the scent marks and over-marks of multiple conspecifics. Recently, we have discovered that voles display relative numerousness, a pre-numerical ability for distinguishing more objects from less objects. Lastly, we are determining whether voles display particular cognitive abilities. For example, do voles display epidosic-like memory for individuals and their scent marks? Episodic-like memory allows individuals to know “what, when, and where.”

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Last Updated: 3/31/14