Links for Keyword: Animal Communication

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Jef Akst A robot interacting with young honey bees in Graz, Austria, exchanged information with a robot swimming with zebrafish in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the robots’ communication influenced the behavior of each animal group, according to a study published in Science Robotics today (March 20). “It’s the first time that people are using this kind of technology to have two different species communicate with each other,” says Simon Garnier, a complex systems biologist at New Jersey Institute of Technology who did not participate in the study. “It’s a proof of concept that you can have robots mediate interactions between distant groups.” He adds, however, that the specific applications of such a setup remains to be seen. As robotics technology has advanced, biologists have sought to harness it, building robots that look and behave like animals. This has allowed researchers to control one side of social interactions in studies of animal behavior. Robots that successfully integrate into animal populations also provide scientists with a means to influence the groups’ behavior. “The next step, we were thinking . . . [is] adding features to the group that the animals cannot do because they don’t have the capabilities to do so,” José Halloy, a physicist at Paris Diderot University who has been working on developing robots to interact intelligently with animals for more than a decade, writes in an email. “The simple and striking thing is that robots can use telecommunication or the Internet and animals cannot do that.” © 1986 - 2019 The Scientist.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 26060 - Posted: 03.22.2019

Laura Sanders In the understory of Central American cloud forests, musical mice trill songs to one another. Now a study of the charismatic creatures reveals how their brains orchestrate these rapid-fire duets. The results, published in the March 1 Science, show that the brains of singing mice split up the musical work. One brain system directs the patterns of notes that make up songs, while another coordinates duets with another mouse, which are carried out with split-second precision. The study suggests that “a quirky animal from the cloud forest of Costa Rica could give us a brand new insight,” into the rapid give-and-take in people’s conversations, says study coauthor Michael Long, a neuroscientist at New York University’s School of Medicine. Quirks abound in these mice, known as Alston’s singing mice (Scotinomys teguina). Like famous singers with extreme green room demands, these mice are “kind of divas,” Long says, requiring larger terrariums, exercise equipment and a very special diet. In the lab, standard mouse chow doesn’t cut it; instead, singing mice feast on fresh meal worm, dry cat food and fresh fruits and berries, says Bret Pasch. The biologist at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff has studied these singing mice for years but wasn’t involved in this study. The mice are also, of course, loud. “They’re very vocal,” particularly in the confines of a lab, Pasch says. “Once an animal calls, it’s like a symphony that goes off,” with repeating calls. In the wild, these duets are thought to attract mates and stake out territory. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2019.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 25998 - Posted: 03.01.2019

By Virginia Morell It’s hard to imagine a teen asking their mother for approval on anything. But a new study shows that male zebra finches—colorful songbirds with complex songs—learn their father’s tune better when mom “fluffs up” to signal her approval. This is the first time the songbirds, thought to be mere memorization machines, have been shown to use social cues for learning—putting them in an elite club that includes cowbirds, marmosets, and humans. The finding suggests other songbirds might also learn their tunes this way, and that zebra finches are better models for studying language development than thought. “Female zebra finches play an important role in male learning, in some ways even rivaling that of the male tutors,” says Karl Berg, an avian ecologist at the University of Texas in Brownsville, who was not involved in the new study. Previously, scientists knew only that the nonsinging females played some role in song acquisition, because males raised with deaf females develop incorrect songs. Researchers have long known that female brown-headed cowbirds make quick, lateral wing strokes to approve the songs of juvenile males (as in finches, only male cowbirds learn to sing). Most scientists discounted the cowbirds’ social cues as an isolated oddity, because the birds are brood parasites. But cowbirds’ similarities to zebra finches—both are highly social and use their songs to attract mates rather than claim territories—led Cornell University developmental psychobiologists Samantha Carouso-Peck and Michael Goldstein to wonder whether female finches also use social cues to help young males learn the best, mate-attracting songs. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 25922 - Posted: 02.01.2019

Susan Milius After some 20 years of theorizing, a scientist is publicly renouncing the “beautiful hypothesis” that male birds’ sexy songs could indicate the quality of their brains. Behavioral ecologist Steve Nowicki of Duke University called birdsong “unreliable” as a clue for choosy females seeking a smart mate, in a paper published in the March 2018 Animal Behaviour. He will also soon publish another critique based on male songbirds that failed to score consistently on learning tests. And in what he calls a “public service announcement,” Nowicki summarized the negative results of those tests on January 4 at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in Tampa, Fla. “This was a beautiful hypothesis that got beaten up by data,” he says. Knowing that something about male singing matters to a female songbird, Nowicki and other researchers once proposed that the quality of singing might indicate a bird’s brainpower. The idea was that, because songbirds need to learn their songs, females could select males with the best brain development by selecting those singing the most precisely copied songs. A brainier male might be better at hunting baby food or spotting predators, thus helping more chicks to survive. Or braininess might signal an indirect benefit, such as contributing good genes to chicks. The first evidence for the notion that birdsong indicates bird smarts came from Neeltje Boogert at the University of Exeter in England, whose research suggested female zebra finches preferred smarter males with more complex songs. But subsequent studies have found evidence both supporting and contradicting the theory. To try to settle the matter, Nowicki and collaborators hand-raised 19 male song sparrows in the lab, controlling which songs the little birds heard as examples to copy so that it was clear how well each youngster learned each song. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2019

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 25900 - Posted: 01.26.2019

By Karen Weintraub Sometimes a whale just wants to change its tune. That’s one of the things researchers have learned recently by eavesdropping on whales in several parts of the world and listening for changes in their pattern and pitch. Together, the new studies suggest that whales are not just whistling in the water, but constantly evolving a form of communication that we are only beginning to understand. Most whales and dolphins vocalize, but dolphins and toothed whales mostly make clicking and whistling sounds. Humpbacks, and possibly bowheads, sing complex songs with repeated patterns, said Michael Noad, an associate professor in the Cetacean Ecology and Acoustics Laboratory at the University of Queensland in Australia. Birds may broadcast their social hierarchy among song-sharing populations by allowing the dominant bird to pick the playlist and patterns. But how and why whales pass song fragments across hundreds of miles, and to thousands of animals, is far more mysterious. The biggest question is why whales sing at all. “The thing that always gets me out of bed in the morning is the function of the song,” Dr. Noad said. “I find humpback song fascinating from the point of view of how it’s evolved.” The leading hypothesis is that male humpbacks — only the males sing — are trying to attract females. But they may also switch tunes when another male is nearby, apparently to assess a rival’s size and fitness, said Dr. Noad, who was the senior author of one of four new papers on whale songs. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 25850 - Posted: 01.09.2019

Katie Brown When polite people talk, they take turns speaking and adjust the timing of their responses on the fly. So do wild macaques, a team of Japanese ethologists reports. Analysis of 20-minute vocal exchanges involving 15 adult female Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) revealed that the monkeys altered their conversational pauses depending on how quickly others answered, the researchers report in a study in an upcoming issue of Current Zoology. It’s unclear whether the monkeys were actually talking in any way analogous to how humans converse. While macaques have the vocal equipment to form humanlike words, their brains are unable to transform that vocal potential into human talk (SN Online: 12/19/16). The primates instead communicate in grunts, coos and other similar sounds. But the length of pauses between those grunts and coos closely match the length of pauses in human chats, says coauthor Noriko Katsu of the University of Tokyo. The researchers analyzed 64 vocal exchanges, called bouts, between at least two monkeys that were recorded between April and October 2012 at the Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto, Japan. The team found that the median length of time between the end of one monkey’s calls and the beginning of another’s was 250 milliseconds — similar to the average 200 milliseconds in conversational pause time between humans. That makes the macaques’ gaps between turns in chattering one of the shortest call-and-response pauses yet measured in nonhuman primates. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2018.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 25829 - Posted: 01.01.2019

By Elizabeth Pennisi Anyone who has tried to whisper sweet nothings into their lover’s ear while standing on a noisy street corner can understand the plight of the túngara frog. A tiny amphibian about the size of a U.S. quarter, the male Physalaemus pustulosus has had to make its call more complex to woo mates when they move from the forest to the city. Now, researchers have found that female túngara frogs from both the country and the city prefer these mouthy city slickers. Biologists have long studied túngara frog courtship, demonstrating that visual signals and calls by themselves are unattractive to females but together are a winning combination, and that a female’s decision to mate depends on the context. Now, researchers have recorded the calls of male frogs living in cities, small towns, and forests across Panama. As they played the calls back, they counted the females, frog-eating bats, and frog-biting insects lured in by each call. Then they transplanted forest-dwelling frogs to the city and city dwellers to the forest to see how females there reacted to their calls. Finally, in the lab, they tested female preference for each call. Males living in cities and towns called more frequently and had more complex calls—with louder “chucks” interspersed in the whine—than forest frogs, the team reports today in Nature Ecology & Evolution. When they were moved into the country, they simplified their calls; but when their country cousins were brought to the big city, they couldn’t make the switch, and kept singing simply. When the researchers played back the calls to females, the females preferred more complex calls, even if the female herself was from the country, they reported. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 25769 - Posted: 12.11.2018

By Virginia Morell Like any fad, the songs of humpback whales don’t stick around for long. Every few years, males swap their chorus of squeaks and groans for a brand new one. Now, scientists have figured out how these “cultural revolutions” take place. All male humpbacks in a population sing the same song, and they appear to learn new ones somewhat like people do. Males in the eastern Australian population of humpbacks, for example, pick up a new song every few years from the western Australian population at shared feeding grounds or while migrating. Over the next few years, the songs spread to all South Pacific populations. To understand how the whales learn the novel ballads, scientists analyzed eastern Australian whale songs over 13 consecutive years. Using spectrograms of 412 song cycles from 95 singers, the scientists scored each tune’s complexity for the number of sounds and themes, and studied the subtle variations individual males can add to stand out. Complexity increased as the songs evolved (as heard in the video below), the team reports today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. But after a song revolution, the ballads became shorter with fewer sounds and themes. The revolutionary songs may be less complex than the old ones because the whales can only learn a certain amount of new material at a time, the scientists conclude. That could mean that although humpback whales are still the crooners of the sea, their learning skills are a bit limited. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Scienc

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 25705 - Posted: 11.21.2018

By Elizabeth Pennisi The melodious call of many birds comes from a mysterious organ buried deep within their chests: a one-of-a-kind voice box called a syrinx. Now, scientists have concluded that this voice box evolved only once, and that it represents a rare example of a true evolutionary novelty. “It’s something that comes out of nothing,” says Denis Dubuole, a geneticist at the University of Geneva in Switzerland who was not involved with the work. “There is nothing that looks like a syrinx in any related animal groups in vertebrates. This is very bizarre.” Reptiles, amphibians, and mammals all have a larynx, a voice box at the top of the throat that protects the airways. Folds of tissue there—the vocal cords—can also vibrate to enable humans to talk, pigs to grunt, and lions to roar. Birds have larynxes, too. But the organ they use to sing their tunes is lower down—where the windpipe splits to go into the two lungs. The syrinx, named in 1872 after a Greek nymph who was transformed into panpipes, has a similar structure: Both are tubes supported by cartilage with folds of tissue. The oldest known syrinx belongs to a bird fossil some 67 million years old; that’s about the same time all modern bird groups became established. To figure out where the bizarre organ came from, Julia Clarke, a paleontologist at the University of Texas in Austin, who made the syrinx discovery in 2013, assembled a team of developmental biologists, evolutionary biologists, and other researchers. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 25535 - Posted: 10.06.2018

Shawna Williams Deciphering the communications of electric fish in their native streams is not for the faint of heart. “Once in a while, there is a thunderstorm ten kilometers away, then at some point the water level of those streams rises by one meter in one hour or so,” says Jan Benda, a computational neuroscientist at the University of Tübingen in Germany. “Then we are in big trouble with our equipment.” Even in the absence of extreme weather, given the normal heat and humidity levels at his team’s research sites in Panama and Columbia, “things break and then you sit there in the field and try to solder a wire back to something late at night,” he says, laughing. “You’re dreaming about your nice lab where everything is so easy.” To reach the study site with their equipment, researchers traveled by boat, and then on foot. Benda was driven from his comfortable lab a few years ago by a gaping hole in the body of scientific knowledge: weakly electric fish, which use electricity to communicate but not to stun prey, are popular subjects for neuroscientists who want to know how vertebrate brains process sensory information, but few if any researchers had ever eavesdropped on the animals zap-chatting in nature. Gaining this type of insight into the behavior of a species studied for decades in the lab is “a massively important undertaking,” says Malcolm MacIver, a neuroscientist and engineer researching animal behavior at Northwestern University in Illinois. © 1986 - 2018 The Scientist

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases; Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 25401 - Posted: 08.31.2018

Noise from oil and gas pumps can be a real mood-killer for a male sparrow trying to attract a mate, but a team of biologists in southern Alberta has discovered that songbirds are finding ways to cope. Their research involves high fidelity speakers, powerful microphones and many early morning hours spent on a patch of prairie near the small city of Brooks. They blast recordings of various types of oil and gas pumps through the speakers and then track and record the birds' response. The acoustic experiments are producing intriguing results. One songbird species, the Savannah sparrow, appears to be adapting its love songs with a high degree of complexity. "They're doing whatever they can to make the sound go further," said Nicola Koper, a conservation biologist from the University of Manitoba's Natural Resources Institute who is involved in the research. After all, the birds have flown all the way up from the southern U.S. on important business: to breed and raise their young. Fastest declining avian group in Canada The mixed grass prairies in southern Alberta serve as a bug buffet and a nursery for grassland birds, but their territory has shrunk. "We've converted so much of our grassland habitat to cropland, that grassland birds are declining more rapidly than birds of any other ecosystem across North America, including in Canada," said Koper. ©2018 CBC/Radio-Canada

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 25233 - Posted: 07.21.2018

by Lindsey Bever Koko, a beloved gorilla who learned to communicate with humans and then stole their hearts, has died. The Gorilla Foundation said the 46-year-old celebrity ape — a western lowland gorilla — died in her sleep earlier this week at the organization’s preserve in Northern California. The Gorilla Foundation, a nonprofit that works to study and protect great apes, said in a statement that Koko will be most remembered “as the primary ambassador for her endangered species.” “Koko touched the lives of millions as an ambassador for all gorillas and an icon for interspecies communication and empathy,” the statement said. “She was beloved and will be deeply missed.” The gorilla was born at the San Francisco Zoo on Independence Day in 1971, according to the Gorilla Foundation, and named Hanabi-ko, which means “fireworks child” in Japanese, though she was mainly known by her nickname, Koko. It was in San Francisco where the newborn gorilla met a budding psychologist, Francine “Penny” Patterson. By the next year, Patterson had started teaching the animal an adapted version of American Sign Language, which she dubbed “Gorilla Sign Language,” or GSL. Video footage from that time shows Patterson playing games with the young gorilla and trying to teach her a new way to communicate. © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 25124 - Posted: 06.22.2018

By Victoria Davis Some people can trace their traditions back decades; the swamp sparrow has passed its songs down for more than 1500 years. The findings, published today in Nature Communications, suggest humans are not alone in keeping practices alive for long periods of time. To conduct the study, researchers recorded a collection of songs from 615 adult male swamp sparrows from six densely populated areas across the northeastern United States. They dissected each bird’s song repertoire, identifying only 160 different syllable types within all the recorded sample. Most swamp swallows sang the same tunes, using the same common syllables, but there were a few rare types in each population, just as there are variations in human oral histories over time. Using a statistical method of calculation called approximate Bayesian computation and models that measure the diversity of syllable types present in each population, the scientists were able to calculate how the songs of each male would have changed over time. They also found that all but two of the most common syllables used during their sampling in 2009 were also the most common during an earlier study of the species when recordings were made in the 1970s. Overall, the analysis indicated that the average age of the oldest tune dated back about 1537 years. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 25112 - Posted: 06.21.2018

By JoAnna Klein You’d think that narwhals couldn’t be more enchanting. These elusive, ice-dodging, deep-diving whales have 10-foot snaggletoothed tusks, and they see with sound. But then there’s the narwhal of east Greenland. It’s kind of the narwhal of narwhals. “Because they’re so hard to access, we honestly hardly knew anything,” said Susanna Blackwell, who studies the effects of human sounds on marine mammals for Greenridge Sciences. “It’s an animal that’s been hidden from civilization for an awful long time.” Their genes are only slightly different than their western cousins. And since glaciers separated them some 10,000 years ago, this smaller population of about 6,000 narwhals, has lived relatively free from human contact amid sharp cliffs and mile-wide glaciers that break into huge, bobbing icebergs. But as the ocean warms, ice caps melt and summers get longer in the Arctic, the once inaccessible habitat of east Greenland narwhals is opening up to scientists — as well as cruise ships and prospectors interested in minerals or offshore drilling. And because toothed whales like narwhals use sounds to orient themselves, Dr. Blackwell worries this potential activity will disturb the narwhal’s acoustic way of life. So she and a team attached acoustic sensors to narwhals to monitor their behavior while human sounds are still scarce. What they found, published Wednesday in a paper in the journal PLOS One, will be used as a baseline behavior for an upcoming study to test how narwhals respond to air gun blasts similar to the ones used by oil surveyors, and may help protect them in the future. Narwhals live only in the Arctic, where it’s dark much of the time, diving thousands of feet to hunt, where it’s dark all of the time. Scientists knew they used acoustics to echolocate and communicate from studies done on narwhals in west Greenland or Canada, but they didn’t know much about the sounds of individual narwhals, especially the east Greenland population. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language; Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 25090 - Posted: 06.14.2018

By Matt Warren Not getting eaten is at the top of the to-do list for most members of the animal kingdom. Now, a new study suggests several species of dolphins can tell when they’re in danger of becoming a killer whale’s dinner—simply by eavesdropping on their calls. Risso’s dolphins and short-finned pilot whales are frequently devoured when they live alongside mammal-eating orcas. To find out whether the dolphins can work out when they are in danger, researchers played recordings of killer whale calls underwater to 10 pilot whales off the coast of North Carolina and four Risso’s dolphins swimming near Southern California. The animals didn’t respond to many of the killer whale sounds, but a subset of the calls provoked a strong reaction in both species: Risso’s dolphins rapidly fled, ending up more than 10 kilometers away from where the sounds were played. Pilot whales, on the other hand, called to each other and formed a tight group before diving directly toward the sound, the researchers report today in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The calls that provoked the responses all contained multiple irregular features, such as harsh and noisy sounds or two distinct frequencies at once. The researchers hypothesize that these kinds of calls could be used by groups of killer whales to communicate during hunting—a clear sign for any potential prey in the area to take action. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language; Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 25082 - Posted: 06.13.2018

Helen Thompson In the pitch-black waters beneath the Arctic ice, bowhead whales get funky. A small population of endangered bowheads belt an unusually varied repertoire of songs, which grows more diverse during mating season. Hunted to near extinction in the 1600s, these fire truck–sized mammals now number in the 300s in the frigid waters around the Svalbard archipelago in Norway. Underwater audio recorders captured the whales singing 184 acoustically distinct songs from October to April in 2010 through 2014. On the bowhead charts, a song's popularity is fleeting. Most recorded songs were heard for less than 100 hours total, although one song registered over 730 hours total. Some songs appeared in more than one month, but none repeated annually. December and January, likely the height of breeding season, saw a wider array of new bowhead songs than other months, researchers report in the April Biology Letters. Hearing a more distinct mixtape may play a role in enticing a female to mate. A hot cetacean band The Spitzbergen bowhead whale songbook contains a wide variety of tunes, and some stick around on the charts longer than others. Here each bubble corresponds to one of the 184 songs recorded by researchers from 2010 to 2014. The size of the bubble corresponds to the number of hours it was sung. Click on any of the dark green bubbles to hear that whale’s song. Groups of humpback whales don't change their tunes much in a given year, compared with bowheads. Only a few songbird species boast similar diversity. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2018.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases; Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 24927 - Posted: 05.01.2018

Jon Hamilton The words "dog" and "fog" sound pretty similar. Yet even a preschooler knows whether you're talking about a puppy or the weather. Now scientists at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., have identified a two-step process that helps our brains learn to first recognize, then categorize new sounds even when the differences are subtle. And it turns out the process is very similar to the way the human brain categorizes visual information, the Georgetown team reports Wednesday in the journal Neuron. "That's very exciting because it suggests there are general principles at work here of how the brain makes sense of the world," says Maximilian Riesenhuber, an author of the study and a professor in Georgetown University School of Medicine's Department of Neuroscience. The finding also could help explain what goes wrong in disorders like dyslexia, which can impair the brain's ability to make sense of what it sees and hears, Riesenhuber says. The research began as an effort to understand how the brain is able to accomplish feats like recognizing a familiar word, even when it's spoken with an accent or unusual pronunciation. "You hear my voice," says Riesenhuber, who has a slight German accent. "You've probably never heard me before. But you can hopefully recognize what I'm saying." © 2018 npr

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language; Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 24882 - Posted: 04.19.2018

Agence France-Presse How do bowhead whales in the unbroken darkness of the Arctic’s polar winter keep busy during breeding season? They sing, of course. From late autumn to early spring, off the east coast of Greenland, some 200 bowheads, hunted to the edge of extinction, serenade each other with compositions from a vast repertoire of song, according to a study published on Wednesday. “It was astonishing,” said the lead author, Kate Stafford, an oceanographer at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Seattle, who eavesdropped on these subaquatic concerts. “Bowhead whales were singing loudly, from November until April” – non-stop, 24/7 – “and they were singing many, many different songs.” Stafford and three colleagues counted 184 distinct melodies over a three-year period, which may make bowheads one of the most prolific composers in the animal kingdom. “The diversity and inter-annual variability in songs of bowhead whales in this study are rivalled only by a few species of songbirds,” the study found. Unlike mating calls, songs are complex musical phrases that are not genetically hard-wired but must be learned. Only a handful of mammals – some bats and a family of apes called gibbons, for example – vocalise in ways akin to bird song, and when they do it is quite repetitive. The only other whale that produces elaborate songs is the humpback, which has been extensively studied in its breeding grounds near Hawaii and off the coast of Mexico. The humpback’s melody is shared among a given population over a period of a year, and gives way to a new tune each spring. Bowhead whales, it turns out, are far more versatile and would appear to improvise new songs all the time. © 2018 Guardian News and Media Limited

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 24819 - Posted: 04.04.2018

By Hiroko Tabuchi If a sparrow sings his heart out on an oil field, but his would-be sweetheart can’t hear him above the oil pumps, what’s a bird to do? In Alberta, Canada, researchers analyzed hundreds of hours of Savannah sparrow love songs and discovered something extraordinary: To be heard above the din, the birds are changing their tune in complex ways that scientists are only starting to understand. “They’re tailoring their songs depending on which part of their message is the most affected,” said Miyako Warrington, a University of Manitoba biologist who led a recent study on how sparrows cope with noise from the oil and gas infrastructure that dots Canada’s landscape. “This seems to show a complex level of adaptation. It’s not just everybody talking louder.” Dr. Warrington is one of a growing number of scholars who study the noise generated by human activity — drills, turbines, roaring jet engines — and how that affects the natural world around us. Mining on the fringes of the Brazilian rain forest, for instance, is disrupting the calls of local black-fronted titi monkeys, a study found last year. Whales and dolphins are known to be particularly vulnerable to the groans of ship engines or offshore drilling, which can disrupt the complex ways they communicate. Research has shown that noise pollution has doubled the background sound levels in more than 60 percent of protected areas in the United States. And humans are not immune to the din. Epidemiologists have linked traffic noise to cardiovascular and other diseases. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 24758 - Posted: 03.15.2018

by Ben Guarino Only male birds sing. For years that was the assumption among amateur birdwatchers and ornithologists alike. After all, male birds are “the obvious ones,” says Lauryn Benedict, a biologist at the University of Northern Colorado. “They're out there showing off, strutting their stuff.” But Benedict and fellow birdsong expert Karan Odom, a biologist at Cornell University, want you to look closer if you hear a chirp or warble. Female birds are not, on the whole, silent. In a call-to-ears published Wednesday in the journal the Auk, the two scientists say that “birders and researchers need to be aware that female birds regularly sing, and they need to take the time to evaluate the sex of singing birds.” The tipping point for Odom came in 2014, when she concluded that birdsong is an ancestral trait shared by both sexes. Female birds sang in 71 percent of 323 species surveyed, she and her colleagues reported then in a Nature Communications paper. They traced this behavior through the bird family tree, winding back the generations to a common singing ancestor. At that point in history, they wrote, both male and female birds sang. Benedict, who was not involved with that work, described it like this: Instead of males evolving to be loud, “females have evolved to be quiet.” © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 24757 - Posted: 03.15.2018