Biologists find birdsong of isolates reverts to norm over several generations (w/Audio)

May 03, 2009

In an experiment that points to a role for genetics in the development of culture, biologists at The City College of New York (CCNY) and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) have discovered that zebra finches raised in isolation will, over several generations, produce a song similar to that sung by the species in the wild.

According to Dr. Olga Fehér, who conducted the experiment for her dissertation at CCNY, first generation male zebra finches raised in isolation produced an unstructured, often abnormal-sounding that was quite different from the "wild-type" song. These birds were paired in a "tutor-pupil" relationship with a new generation of zebra finches that imitated their tutors' songs, but changed certain characteristics.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
This recording demonstrates the progression from isolate song to "wild-type" song in two tutoring lineages and also in the isolate colony. Credit: Olga Feher

The alterations accumulated over generations. By the fourth generation the song had evolved toward the "wild-type" song," Dr. Fehér and colleagues report in the May 6 edition of Nature.

"We were surprised the song reverted back to the "wild-type" song so fast," she said.

"Culture appears to be encoded in the birds. It just needed a few generations to emerge," said Dr. Ofer Tchernichovski, CCNY Professor of Biology and Dr. Fehér's thesis adviser. He noted that the same pattern of evolution in the song occurred whether the subsequent generations of male birds were raised among female birds, who do not sing, and siblings in a colony setting or just among isolate males one-on-one.

A similar phenomenon has been observed among deaf children in Nicaragua. There, children developed a rudimentary sign language in the home that spontaneously evolved into a more sophisticated sign language when they were placed in a school with other deaf children.

Dr. Fehér concluded the experiment "identified some encoded traits of culture." This finding could be used to explain why different species develop different song cultures," Professor Tchernichovski added.

Future research could show whether "changes in gene expression, neuronal reorganization or neurogenesis associated with song development show orderly multigenerational progression during the evolution of song culture."

Source: City College of New York

Explore further: Rare new species of plant: Stachys caroliniana

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Bird song study gives clues to human stuttering

Jun 11, 2007

Researchers at the Methodist Neurological Institute in Houston and Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City used functional MRI to determine that songbirds have a pronounced right-brain response to the sound of songs, ...

What gets a female's attention -- at least a songbird's

Mar 18, 2008

Male songbirds produce a subtly different tune when they are courting a female than when they are singing on their own. Now, new research offers a window into the effect this has on females, showing they have an ear for detail. ...

Female birds boost up their eggs when hearing sexy song

Jun 08, 2006

In a new study published in the latest issue of Ethology researchers show that female songbirds can alter the size of eggs and possibly the sex of their chicks according to how they perceive their mate’s quality.

Recommended for you

Rare new species of plant: Stachys caroliniana

Nov 21, 2014

The exclusive club of explorers who have discovered a rare new species of life isn't restricted to globetrotters traveling to remote locations like the Amazon rainforests, Madagascar or the woodlands of the ...

Mysterious glowworm found in Peruvian rainforest

Nov 21, 2014

(Phys.org) —Wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer has discovered what appears to be a new type of bioluminescent larvae. He told members of the press recently that he was walking near a camp in the Peruvian ...

The unknown crocodiles

Nov 21, 2014

Just a few years ago, crocodilians – crocodiles, alligators and their less-known relatives – were mostly thought of as slow, lazy, and outright stupid animals. You may have thought something like that ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

billski
not rated yet May 05, 2009
About the same song!

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.