Bruce A. Carlson, PhD


Neurosciences Program
Evolution, Ecology and Population Biology Program
Computational and Systems Biology Program

Research Abstract:

Nervous systems evolved to control behavior. One of the primary functions of nervous systems is to receive and process information from the outside world, and then act on that information in ways that maximize survival and reproduction. We employ an integrative approach to understanding animal communication and the evolution of information processing. We are interested in understanding:

How do sensory receptors encode stimuli in the periphery?

How do central sensory pathways extract behaviorally relevant information from peripheral responses?

How does evolutionary change in sensory systems mediate adaptive diversification of perception and behavior?

How does behavior influence ecological interactions and evolutionary processes?

Our work is unique in its application of detailed neurophysiology within a broad comparative framework, and it has implications for our understanding of neural mechanisms for behavior as well as the evolution of behavioral diversity.

Mentorship and Commitment to Diversity Statement:
I run a small lab, with 2-4 graduate students and postdocs at a time, along with 2-5 undergraduate students. I have weekly one-hour meetings with my trainees, during which time we discuss research questions and ideas, experiment plans, recent data, troubleshooting of experiments, teaching, long-term career goals, academia, work-life balance, personal difficulties, and whatever else my trainees might want to discuss. In addition, we all meet as a group once a week, alternating between group research meetings and journal clubs. In our research meetings, each trainee gets up to 10 minutes to discuss recent data, problems with their experiments, research plans, or research ideas. In our journal clubs, we collectively discuss a paper that each of us has read. Importantly, I recognize that no two trainees are the same, and that we each bring our own unique background, experiences, and perspectives to the lab. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. I cater my mentoring to each individual’s strengths, weaknesses, and needs, and my relationship with trainees changes as they develop on their trajectory towards becoming an independent scientist. As a white, cisgender, heterosexual man who grew up in the US, I recognize I have benefited from numerous seen and unseen privileges, and that I will never be able to understand fully the experiences and perspectives of others, especially those who come from very different backgrounds. I strive to be an empathetic listener. I also encourage my trainees to foster relationships with additional mentors who may be better able to understand the unique difficulties they experience. I am strongly committed to equity and inclusion, both in my professional and personal lives. As chair of the Biology Inclusion Committee, I am in charge of the Biology Department’s efforts in diversity, equity, and inclusion. These include: workshops, seminars, panels, and roundtables; training and education; information campaigns; development of policy; responding to incidents; and working with similarly focused committees across the university. I am also active in local politics and activism, especially in relation to social, racial, and economic justice.

Selected Publications:

Schumacher EL& Carlson BA (2022) Convergent mosaic brain evolution is associated with the evolution of novel electrosensory systems in teleost fishes. eLife 11: e74159.

Kohashi T, Lube AJ, Yang JH, Roberts-Gaddipati P, & Carlson BA (2021) Pauses during communication release behavioral habituation through recovery from synaptic depression. Current Biology 31: 3145-3152.

Fukutomi M & Carlson BA (2020) Signal diversification is associated with corollary discharge evolution in weakly electric fish. The Journal of Neuroscience 40: 6345-6356.

Fukutomi M & Carlson BA (2020) A history of corollary discharge: Contributions of mormyrid weakly electric fish. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience 14: 42.

Sukhum KV, Shen J, & Carlson BA (2018) Extreme enlargement of the cerebellum in a clade of teleost fishes that evolved a novel active sensory system. Current Biology 28: 1-7.

Vélez A, Kohashi T, Lu A, & Carlson, BA (2017) The cellular and circuit basis for evolutionary change in sensory perception in mormyrid fishes. Scientific Reports 7: 3783.

Vélez A & Carlson BA (2016) Detection of transient synchrony across oscillating receptors by the central electrosensory system of mormyrid fish. eLife 5: e16851.

Sukhum KV, Freiler MK, Wang R, & Carlson BA (2016) The costs of a big brain: extreme encephalization results in higher energetic demand and reduced hypoxia tolerance in weakly electric African fishes. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 283: 20162157.

Baker CA, Ma L, Casareale C, & Carlson BA (2016) Behavioral and single-neuron sensitivity to millisecond variations in temporally patterned communication signals. The Journal of Neuroscience 36: 8985-9000.

Baker CA, Huck KR, & Carlson BA (2015) Peripheral sensory coding through oscillatory synchrony in weakly electric fish. eLife 4:e08163.

Baker CA & Carlson BA (2014) Short-term depression, temporal summation, and onset inhibition shape interval tuning in midbrain neurons. The Journal of Neuroscience 34:14272-14287.

Carlson BA, Hasan SM, Hollmann M, Miller DB, Harmon LJ & Arnegard ME (2011). Brain evolution triggers increased diversification of electric fishes. Science 332:583-586.

Last Updated: 11/10/2022 11:47:36 AM

In the genus Paramoryrops (top), electric organ discharges have rapidly evolved, resulting in dramatic differences in signal waveform among closely-related species. In the genus Petrocephalus (bottom), electric organ discharges have evolved much more slowly, resulting in similar waveforms among species. This difference in signal diversification rates resulted from evolutionary change in the electro-sensory and electro-motor systems that these fish use to communicate with each other. The duration of each pulse ranges from about 500 microseconds in various Petrocephalus species to nearly 10 milliseconds in Paramormyrops gabonensis.
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