Zebra finches use their vocal control system to communicate with each other

Andries ter Maat, Lisa Trost

1. Premotor activity in the zebra finch brain

To investigate the role of the male song control system in call-based male female communication, we recorded the neural activity in a premotor nucleus of the song control system RA (robust nucleus of the arcopallium) in freely behaving male zebra finches. The unique combination of acoustic monitoring together with wireless brain recording of individual zebra finches in groups shows that the neuronal activity of the vocal control system correlates with the production of unlearned stack calls. The results suggest that the vocal control system evolved from a brain circuit controlling simple unlearned calls to a system capable of producing acoustically rich, learned vocalizations (Ter Maat et al., 2014).

 2. Sensory activity in the zebra finch brain

Playback experiments show that zebra finches respond faster to the calls of the partner then to calls of unknown conspecifics. We assume that the identity of the partner is coded through a learning process in the brain. Electrophysiological recordings revealed reaction norm changes in a secondary auditory brain area (NCM, caudomedial nidopallium), indicating the ability of zebra finches to differentiate between degrees of familiarity of conspecifics and to categorize different call types (D'Amelio et al., 2017a; Adreani et al., 2018). 

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