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USU researcher awarded grant funding for social behavior research

A pair of coyotes
Don DeBold
Coyotes bond with a mate to raise young.

Sara Freeman, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology at Utah State University (and my faculty advisor), studies the biological underpinnings of social behavior and monogamy. Throughout her career, she has researched these phenomena in humans, other primates, rodents, and now coyotes. Studying social behavior in a variety of species helps scientists get a better idea of the neural circuitry involved.

“There are a lot of species out there. I think comparative neuroscience is really fascinating, to see if the systems that we know in one species can be generalizable to other species,” Freeman said.

This year, Freeman received a Powe Research Grant from Oak Ridge Associated Universities, which is matched by USU for a total of $10,000, for her research.

“This grant’s going to allow us to study the brains and behavior of the coyotes at the Millville Predator Center,” Freeman said.

Much of Freeman’s research involves studying the distribution of hormone receptors in the coyote brain, but some of her students study the animals’ behavior.

“We are now funded to put proximity collars on behaving pairs of animals so that we can remotely track their proximity, which is a way that we can quantify their social attachment or their social bond," she said.

Freeman says studying behavior and neuroscience together is key to understanding the brain.

“Yeah, so if you think about studying animal behavior – it’s an output of the brain. I mean, the brain controls so many different aspects of our body's functions, but behavior is one, quantifiable, very robust output of the brain. So if you want to study the social brain, you can get a really good measure of that by just quantifying and measuring the social behavior of an animal,” Freeman said.

Caroline Long is a science reporter at UPR. She is curious about the natural world and passionate about communicating her findings with others. As a PhD student in Biology at Utah State University, she spends most of her time in the lab or at the coyote facility, studying social behavior. In her free time, she enjoys making art, listening to music, and hiking.