By now we all know the power of music goes far beyond our species.
There are countless videos of cows flocking to hear the sound of live instruments and dogs dancing alongside their owners. Now, a DJ-turned researcher from The University of Queensland is using her experience in music production to better understand our aquatic neighbors.
PhD candidate Rebecca Poulsen, affectionately known as the “Fish DJ,” has harnessed her musical prowess to investigate the brain networks and hearing of zebrafish larvae. After designing a special speaker system and combining it with whole-brain imaging, she discovered that baby fish actually hear much better than we had originally thought. Poulsen posits that people don’t often consider underwater hearing, but notes that it is essential for fish, whose survival depends on their ability to escape predators, find food, and communicate.
“For many years my music career has been in music production and DJing—I’ve found underwater acoustics to be a lot more complicated than air frequencies,” Poulsen said. “It is very rewarding to be using the acoustic skills I learned in my undergraduate degree, and in my music career, to overcome the challenge of delivering sounds to our zebrafish in the lab. I designed the speaker to adhere to the chamber the larvae are in, so all the sound I play is accurately received by the larvae, with no loss through the air.”
During her studies alongside Associate Professor Ethan Scott, Poulsen tested different sounds to see if the larvae could differentiate between a variety of frequencies and how the disparity contributes to their behavior. Most of the sounds played reflected what they would hear in the wild, but she also showed them some songs like MC Hammer‘s “Can’t Touch This,” which eventually received the hip-hop legend’s stamp of approval.
You can read more about Poulsen’s studies in Current Biology.