Songbird sings in 3D

January 7, 2013
High-field magnetic resonance imaging and micro-computed tomography have been used to construct stunning high resolution, 3D, images, as well as a data set "morphome" of the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) vocal organ, the syrinx. Credit: Daniel N Düring, Alexander Ziegler, Christopher K Thompson, Andreas Ziegler, Cornelius Faber, Johannes Müller, Constance Scharff and Coen P H Elemans.

The question 'How do songbirds sing?' is addressed in a study published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Biology. High-field magnetic resonance imaging and micro-computed tomography have been used to construct stunning high resolution, 3D, images, as well as a data set "morphome" of the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) vocal organ, the syrinx.

Like humans, songbirds learn their vocalizations by imitation. Since their songs are used for finding a mate and retaining territories, birdsong is very important for reproductive success.

The syrinx, located at the point where the trachea splits in two to send air to the lungs, is unique to birds and performs the same function as vocal cords in humans. Birds can have such a complete control over the syrinx, with sub-millisecond precision, that in some cases they are even able to mimic .

Despite great inroads in uncovering the of birdsong, the anatomy of the complex physical structures that generate sound have been less well understood.

The multinational team has generated interactive 3D PDF models of the syringeal skeleton, , cartilaginous pads, and muscles affecting sound production. These models show in detail the delicate balance between strength, and lightness of bones and cartilage required to support and alter the vibrating membranes of the syrinx at superfast speeds.

Dr Coen Elemans, from the University of Southern Denmark, who led this study, explained, "This study provides the basis to analyze the micromechanics, and exact neural and muscular control of the syrinx. For example, we describe a cartilaginous structure which may allow the to precisely control its songs by uncoupling sound frequency and volume." In addition, the researchers found a previously unrecognized Y-shaped structure on the sternum which corresponds to the shape of the syrinx and could help stabilize sound production.

Explore further: Probing Question: How do songbirds learn to sing?

More information: The songbird syrinx morphome: a three-dimensional, high-resolution, interactive morphological map of the zebra finch vocal organ , Daniel N Düring, Alexander Ziegler, Christopher K Thompson, Andreas Ziegler, Cornelius Faber, Johannes Müller, Constance Scharff and Coen P H Elemans, BMC Biology (in press)

Related Stories

Superfast muscles in songbirds

July 9, 2008

Certain songbirds can contract their vocal muscles 100 times faster than humans can blink an eye – placing the birds with a handful of animals that have evolved superfast muscles, University of Utah researchers found.

Simple rubber device mimics complex bird songs

November 21, 2010

For centuries, hunters have imitated their avian prey by whistling through their fingers or by carving wooden bird calls. Now a team of physicists at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has reproduced many of ...

Recommended for you

Discovery may benefit farmers worldwide

September 26, 2016

University of Guelph plant scientists have shown for the first time how an ancient crop teams up with a beneficial microbe to protect against a devastating fungal infection, a discovery that may benefit millions of subsistence ...

How the anthrax toxin forms a deadly 'conveyer belt'

September 26, 2016

Researchers have built a three-dimensional map of the anthrax toxin that may explain how it efficiently transfers its lethal components into the cytoplasm of infected cells. The study, "Structure of anthrax lethal toxin prepore ...

Yeast knockouts peel back secrets of cell protein function

September 26, 2016

Proteins are the hammers and tongs of life, with fundamental roles in most of what happens in biology. But biologists still don't know what thousands of proteins do, and how their presence or absence affects the cell.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.