Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2019

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Biology & Biomedical Sciences (Neurosciences)

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Successful mating in diverse animal species often depends on ritualistic sequences of spatially and temporally coordinated behavioral elements. Yet, the sensory cues and neural circuits that mediate optimal mating display patterns are largely unknown. The courtship ritual in Drosophila melanogaster consists of a well-studied sequence of behavioral elements — including orienting, chasing, tapping, singing, and licking — that are known to depend on several sensory modalities, including both vision and chemosensation. However, the specific sensory inputs utilized by males to direct the spatial and temporal transitions between different elements of the courtship ritual are not well understood. In this thesis, I therefore first develop a new computational tool to quantitatively characterize male courtship behaviors with a high spatial and temporal resolution. Subsequently, I use this tool, in conjunction with genetic and microscopy approaches to map the visual and chemosensory neural pathways that drive some of the patterned behavioral elements of the male courtship ritual. I demonstrate that whereas visual circuits are important for mediating both spatial and temporal components of male mating behaviors, chemosensory circuits are mostly required for enhancing the duration and intensity of courtship bouts. Further, I identify a male-specific axonal architecture present in subpopulations of foreleg chemosensory neurons which is important for helping to sustain mating behaviors. This thesis examines the inputs, processing centers, and neural architectures required for the proper organization of innate mating behaviors and should provide insight into understanding how animals transform sensory stimuli into complex behavioral outputs, which is a major goal in modern neuroscience.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Yehuda Ben-Shahar

Committee Members

Bruce Carlson, Erik Herzog, Tim Holy, Barani Raman,


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