About Me

Devin P. Merullo
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Integrative Biology
University of Wisconsin-Madison
429 Birge Hall, 430 Lincoln Drive
Madison, WI 53706
608-262-5410 (office)
dmerullo [at] wisc.edu

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I am a Ph.D. candidate in Zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with Dr. Lauren V. Riters. I study the neurobiology of vocal communication in songbirds, with a focus on the control of singing behavior across contexts. My main interest as a behavioral neuroscientist to understand the mechanisms of behavior incorporates elements of neurobiology, physiology, and ethology.


In species that use vocalizations to communicate, individuals must produce vocalizations that are appropriate in a given context for effective social interactions. While the neural basis of vocal production is well-known for some animal groups, such as songbirds, it is not clear how the brain regulates vocal signals across contexts. My dissertation work examines the role that neurotensin, a neuropeptide involved in motivation and social behavior that strongly interacts with dopamine, may have in modulating context-specific communication. This research aims to enhance our understanding of the neural control of vocal communication, of the regulation of social behavior across vertebrates, and ultimately of the functional relationship between the brain, behavior, and environment.


Merullo DP, Spool JA, Zhao C, Riters LV. (2018). Co-localization patterns of neurotensin receptor 1 and tyrosine hydroxylase in brain regions involved in motivation and social behavior in male European starlings. Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy, in press.

Riters LV, Spool JA, Merullo DP, Hahn AH. (2017). Song practice as a rewarding form of play in songbirds. Behavioural Processes. DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2017.10.002

Hahn AH, Merullo DP, Spool JA, Angyal CS, Stevenson SA, Riters LV. (2017). Song-associated reward correlates with endocannabinoid-related gene expression in male European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). Neuroscience, 346, 255-266. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2017.01.028

Merullo DP, Angyal CS, Stevenson SA, Riters LV. (2016). Song in an affiliative context relates to the neural expression of dopamine- and neurotensin-related genes in male European starlings. Brain, Behavior and Evolution, 88, 81-92. DOI: 10.1159/000448191

Merullo DP, Cordes MA, DeVries MS, Stevenson SA, Riters LV. (2015). Neurotensin neural mRNA expression correlates with vocal communication and other highly-motivated social behaviors in male European starlings. Physiology and Behavior, 151, 155-161. DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2015.07.019

Merullo DP, Cordes MA, Stevenson SA, Riters LV. (2015). Neurotensin immunolabeling relates to sexually-motivated song and other social behaviors in male European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). Behavioural Brain Research, 282, 133-143. DOI: 10.1016/j.bbr.2015.01.007