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Coevolution in communication senders and receivers: vocal behavior and auditory processing in multiple songbird species


Address for correspondence: Sarah M. N. Woolley, Department of Psychology, Columbia University, 406 Schermerhorn Hall, 1190 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY 10027.


Communication is a strong selective pressure on brain evolution because the exchange of information between individuals is crucial for fitness-related behaviors, such as mating. Given the importance of communication, the brains of signal senders and receivers are likely to be functionally coordinated. We study vocal behavior and auditory processing in multiple species of estrildid finches with the goal of understanding how species identity and early experience interact to shape the neural systems that subserve communication. Male finches learn to produce species-specific songs, and both sexes learn to recognize songs. Our studies indicate that closely related species exhibit different auditory coding properties in the midbrain and forebrain and that early life experience of vocalizations contributes to these differences. Moreover, birds that naturally sing tonal songs can learn broadband songs from heterospecific tutors, providing an opportunity to examine the interplay between species identity and early experience in the development of vocal behavior and auditory tuning.

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