Daniel Mann about his research stay at the University of Vienna


For one year Daniel Mann is working at the Budgie Lab at the Department of Cognitive Biology to do his research. Daniel is a PhD candidate at the Department of Biology, Queens College, City University of New York with the dissertation topic "Stabilizing Forces in Acoustic Cultural Evolution: Comparing Humans and Birds".

His work in linguistics (Linguistics Program, Graduate Center, CUNY) has focused on trying to understand how typological asymmetries arise and how linguistic, cognitive, and physical biases may shape language during the processes of transmission and learning. Daniel has recently begun to expand his research to non-human species by investigating avian vocal learning. As part of the Lahti Lab (Department of Biology, Queens College, CUNY), he is analyzing some of the late Dr. Paul Mundinger’s unpublished data on heterospecific song learning in house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus).

In Vienna at the Department of Cognitive Biology he is looking into various aspects of song production and acoustic perception in budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus). In particular, Daniel is exploring the complex structure of their learned “warble” song, how they pair physical movement with vocalizations, and how they perceive suprasegemental features of human language.

In an interview Daniel gives us insights into his research and his time at the University of Vienna:

  • What is your research about?

My research is about trying to understand the physical, cognitive, and perceptual biases and constraints that shape cultural transmission. I’m particularly interested in comparing species that learn their vocalizations (such as humans and parrots). With the Budgie lab in the Department of Cognitive Biology, I am investigating vocal production and perception in the parrot species, the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus), in order to understand the range and limits of their vocal and perceptual flexibility. More specifically I am looking at group, individual, and social variation in their learned “warble” song as well as their perception of human linguistic features. My hope is that this research will help shed light on the deeper evolutionary roots of learned acoustic communication.

  • Why is the University of Vienna interesting for your research?

The Department of Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna is perfectly suited for my interests in both its research questions as well as its empirical approach to address those questions. The people in the department have more of an interdisciplinary outlook and who are willing to apply a variety of methods and approaches from several disciplines. My background is in linguistics but my interests lie more in the biological domain. This department actively pursues questions that intersect these fields (among others).

  • What will you especially remember from your time in Vienna?

Mostly the amazing people I’ve met and the conversations and experiences I’ve had with them! The Christmas markets were a lot of fun and something I had never experienced before. I’ll also never forget walking along the Donauinsel.

  • What is your favorite place at the University of Vienna and in Vienna in general?

I love the fossils lining the halls of UZA 1 and UZA 2. It’s so nice to take a stroll to clear your mind and compare the skeletons of marine mammals, elephants, and even a stegosaurus! It’s a little embarrassing since I work with animals, but I’d have to say the Tiergarten Schönbrunn. Especially the rainforest house and the bat cave.


  • In case you are interested in a research stay at the University of Vienna, please inform yourself about the Visiting PhD programme on our website!

(Photo: Daniel Mann)

(Photo: Daniel Mann)