Nav: Home

Researchers map neural circuitry of songbird learning

December 08, 2016

How do juvenile songbirds learn to sing in a way that preserves both the unique features of local song culture and their specifics-specific song "signature"? Researchers have begun to map the brain circuitry responsible for cultural transmission and species specificity in birdsong.

Two studies appearing in the December 9 issue of Science shed light upon the neuronal architecture of birdsong. In one experiment, Dr. Vikram Gadagkar, postdoctoral fellow and neurobiologist at Cornell University, and his colleagues found that dopaminergic neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain encode errors in singing performance. This dopaminergic error signal may also help juvenile zebra finches learn to accurately imitate the song of their tutor.

In the second study, investigators studied songbird hatchlings fostered by another species. Dr. Makoto Araki, Neuronal Mechanism of Critical Period Unit, 2 3 Collective Interactions Unit at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University, Okinawa, Japan and colleagues determined that, while juvenile zebra finches imitated the song syllables of their adoptive Bengalese finch parents, they adjusted song cadence towards the rhythm typical of their own species, whose song they had never heard, suggesting that songbirds learn rhythm from an innate template rather than from other birds.

In this same issue of Science, Drs. Ofer Tchernichovski and Dina Lipkind, psychology researchers at Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY), offer a perspective on the above studies. Drs. Tchernichovski and Lipkind, who were not affiliated with either study, propose that the findings may shed light on how songbirds maintain a species-specific song signature despite the random changes that occur in local populations and accumulate over generations. According to the Hunter researchers, two types of neurons in the auditory cortex of songbirds may code independently for the sound of song syllables and for rhythm--with song notes likely more dependent on input from adult tutors and cadence on an innate template or "barcode."

While scientists are only beginning to understand the neural mechanisms that support vocal learning in songbirds, Drs. Tchernichovski and Lipkind point out that this research is relevant to many animal communication systems, including stable cultural transmission in humans.

Dr. Tchernichovski heads the Laboratory of Vocal Learning at Hunter College, CUNY, and uses the songbird to study the mechanisms of vocal learning. Like early speech development in the human infant, the songbird learns to imitate complex sounds during a critical period of development. The adult bird cannot imitate any more - we do not know why. His lab studies the animal behavior and dynamics of vocal learning and sound production across different brain levels. The lab aims to uncover the specific physiological and molecular (gene expression) brain processes that underlie song learning.
-end-
The City University of New York is the nation's leading urban public university. Founded in New York City in 1847, the University comprises 24 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, and additional professional schools. The University serves nearly 275,000 degree-credit students and 218,083 adult, continuing and professional education students.

For more information, please contact Shante Booker (shante.booker@cuny.edu) or visit http://www.cuny.edu/research

The City University of New York

Related Songbirds Articles:

Daddy daycare: Why some songbirds care for the wrong kids
Interspecific feeding -- when an adult of one species feeds the young of another -- is rare among songbirds, and scientists could only speculate on why it occurs, but now, Penn State researchers have new insight into this behavior.
Neonicotinoid insecticides cause rapid weight loss and travel delays in migrating songbirds
Songbirds exposed to imidacloprid, a widely used neonicotinoid insecticide, exhibit anorexic behavior, reduced body weight and delays in their migratory itinerary, according to a new study.
International scientists shed new light on demise of two extinct New Zealand songbirds
They may not have been seen for the past 50 and 110 years, but an international study into their extinction has provided answers to how the world lost New Zealand's South Island kokako and huia.
Scent brings all the songbirds to the yard
Lehigh University scientists found that not only can chickadees smell, but the males and females prefer the smell of their own species over the smell of the opposite species.
Scientists identify brain region that enables young songbirds to change their tune
In a scientific first, Columbia scientists have demonstrated how the brains of young songbirds become tuned to the songs they learn while growing up.
The case of the poisoned songbirds
Researchers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Wildlife Investigations Laboratory present their results from a toxicological investigation into a mortality event involving songbirds in a new publication in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.
Baby tiger sharks eat songbirds
Tiger sharks have a reputation for being the 'garbage cans of the sea' -- they'll eat just about anything, from dolphins and sea turtles to rubber tires.
Plump songbirds more likely to survive migration over Gulf of Mexico
A kilometer above Fort Morgan, Alabama, small migratory birds face a critical decision.
Crowded urban areas have fewer songbirds per person
People in crowded urban areas -- especially poor areas -- see fewer songbirds such as tits and finches, and more potential 'nuisance' birds, such as pigeons, magpies and gulls, new research shows.
Genes in songbirds hold clues about human speech disorders, UCLA biologists report
New insights about how songbirds learn to sing provide promising clues about human speech disorders and may lead to new ways of treating them.
More Songbirds News and Songbirds Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.