Associate Professor, Biology
Lauryn Benedict, Ph.D., studies animal communication and social behavior. Her research focuses on bird song as a model system for understanding how signals evolve in nature.
Locally, Benedict has been studying the rock wren and its cousin, the canyon wren, for eight years. A curious difference between the two species has to do with the number of songs in their repertoires. While a canyon wren sings about five different song types, a rock wren far surpasses that, with a loquacious 120 songs. Why have they evolved so differently? Why is one so much more complex than the other? To investigate these issues, Benedict and her team of graduate and undergraduate students record birdsong in the field, then use technology to visualize and analyze small differences in singing from one wren to the next.
Globally, Benedict is part of a team working to document and describe the songs of female birds. In North America many observers assume that every singing bird is a male, but recent research suggests that females sing too. With the help of citizen scientists, Benedict and her colleagues are working to collect samples of female bird songs from around the world. In her own backyard, she and UNC students are tackling this question by examining when and why canyon wren females sing.
Benedict earned her bachelor’s degree in Biology at Cornell University, and her Ph.D. in Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. She completed postdoctoral training at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology in Berkeley, CA. At UNC she teaches classes on birds, animal behavior, and organismal diversity. She curates the UNC Zoology museum and works with local organizations to promote public engagement in science.