Links for Keyword: Animal Communication

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to our mailing list, to receive news updates. Learn more.


Links 1 - 20 of 180

Rachael Lallensack It takes a village to teach a bat how to communicate. Baby Egyptian fruit bats learn calls from their mothers, but research now shows that they can learn new dialects, or the pitch of their vocalizations, from the colony members around them. Learning to communicate by repeating the noises that others make is something only a few mammal groups — including humans, whales and dolphins — are known to do. Researchers call this vocal learning, and it's something that they're starting to study in bats. Findings published on 31 October in PLOS Biology1 show that bats can also pick things up from the group around them, a process that the authors dub crowd vocal learning. Bats are becoming the best organism to use in studies of how mammals learn to vocalize, because they’re more easily manipulated in the lab than whales or dolphins. The latest research underscores their importance, says neuroscientist Michael Yartsev of the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved with the work. Egyptian fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus) are highly social and live in colonies with dozens to thousands of other bats. To see how the pups learn dialects, researchers caught 15 pregnant Egyptian fruit bats and took them into the lab. To control for potential genetic effects, they ensured that the mothers weren't closely related. The team then split the mothers into three groups of five and put each group into one of three chambers, where the mothers gave birth to their young. The scientists used recordings of wild Egyptian fruit bat colonies that were low in frequency, high or a mix of both frequencies, and then piped one pitch into each chamber. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited,

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: 24275 - Posted: 11.01.2017

By SANDY SMOLAN I’ve long been interested in the capacity of storytelling and journalism to transport an audience. Shooting my first documentary in North Africa 35 years ago, I used multiple projectors and screens to create an immersive experience. The approach at the time was experimental and while I moved on to more traditional storytelling in features, television and documentaries, I always held on to the idea of using immersive environments to transport viewers and allow them to experience an expanded vision of the world. They surrounded the divers and started clicking — they seemed to be saying hello. Then last year I visited the virtual reality lab at Stanford, which is at the fore of contemporary immersive journalism. I realized that V.R. had the potential to become a powerful new form of storytelling, and the medium has been evolving faster than anyone had ever expected. After I read James Nestor’s book “Deep,” about free diving and the human connection to the ocean, I realized that the combination of stunning imagery and the way in which a team of researchers were studying the language of whales and dolphins by free diving with them would translate perfectly to V.R. I had never forgotten my first open water dive in the Caribbean with my father when I was 17 and the transcendent experience of being suspended 30 feet beneath the surface, midway between the boat above us and the white sand of the ocean floor below. Now my son has become a free diver and as I recently watched him dive silently, on a single breath, his body elongated with outsize fins, unencumbered by tanks, regulators and the noise of escaping bubbles, I saw what James so eloquently described in his book — a human being interacting with the ocean and marine life in a manner few people can ever experience. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 24032 - Posted: 09.04.2017

By Denise D. Cummins Looking directly at the camera, NPR's Skunk Bear host Adam Cole laments, "It's pretty clear that I'll never be able to have a real human-style conversation with an ape.” In his short and very entertaining video, Cole summarizes decades of research aimed at teaching apes human language, all of which, we are to understand, came to naught. But what the video actually shows us is how little the average person (and many scientists) understands about language. At one point, Cole tells his dog to sit, and the dog sits. This, he tells us, is not evidence that the dog knows English. But actually, it is. The dog's behavior shows us that he is capable of understanding the simple concept of sitting, that he is capable of distinguishing the verbal signal "sit" from other verbal signals, and that he is capable of connecting the two. This isn't rocket science, it isn't magic, and it isn't anthropomorphizing. It is just the way word learning works. In studies conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, a border collie named Rico was taught the meanings of 200 words. He could even use theprocess of elimination to figure out unfamiliar words: If he already knew the word "ball,” and his trainer showed him a ball and a stick and told him to get the "stick,” he would bring the stick. He could remember new words even after a month of not hearing them. © 2017 Scientific American,

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: 23977 - Posted: 08.19.2017

By Giorgia Guglielmi Tits amazing are birds Japanese. If you didn’t get that, you wouldn’t be alone: Humans figure out the meaning of sentences like this using grammatical rules such as word order. It turns out that Japanese tits, social birds that live in Japan and the Russian Far East, do it too. These wild birds respond to calls they’ve never heard before only if the chirps are in the right order, researchers report today in Current Biology. When a predator threatens the flock, Japanese tits produce something called a “mobbing call,” with the sequence ABC-D. By itself, the ABC part of the call means “danger.” But the D part of the call—similar to the “recruitment call” of a close relative, the willow tit—attracts flock members when there’s something to share, such as food. When the two parts are produced together, Japanese tits flock together to mob the intruder. To find out if the order of the calls mattered, researchers created a song that Japanese tits had never heard before—an artificial sequence made up of the Japanese tit’s ABC alert, followed by the willow tit’s recruitment call, tӓӓ. (You can listen to them, above.) They then played it from a loudspeaker for a flock of nearby tits. When Japanese tits heard the ABC- tӓӓ call, they turned their heads, looking for a predator, as they approached the loudspeaker. But when the artificial sequence was reversed (tӓӓ-ABC), the birds didn’t react. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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: 23889 - Posted: 07.28.2017

By Virginia Morell Frogs, birds, monkeys, and humans make a variety of sounds expressing emotions. And because that ability is shared by every land-dwelling animal with a backbone, Charles Darwin argued that these cries have a common origin. Humans can recognize the emotions in the voices of other mammals, including cats and dogs. To find out whether we can also do this for nonmammals, scientists gathered recordings from nine species, including the hourglass tree frog (above), American alligator, common raven, Barbary macaque, and Tamil-speaking humans in two emotional states: highly and mildly aroused. They played the calls to 75 people—men and women who spoke English, German, or Mandarin—and asked them to judge whether the animal was very excited or subdued. You can try it yourself below: Participants easily passed the tests. Some 90% of listeners distinguished between the excited and calmer sounds of the tree frogs (which were calling for mates), and 87% scored the alligator calls correctly. Sixty-two percent were right about the ravens’ calls of alarm. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 23877 - Posted: 07.26.2017

by Laurel Hamers The tempo of a male elephant seal’s call broadcasts his identity to rival males, a new study finds. Every male elephant seal has a distinct vocalization that sounds something like a sputtering lawnmower — pulses of sound in a pattern and at a pace that stays the same over time. At a California state park where elephant seals breed each year, researchers played different variations of an alpha male’s threat call to subordinate males who knew him. The seals weren’t as responsive when the tempo of that call was modified substantially, suggesting they didn’t recognize it as a threat. Modifying the call’s timbre — the acoustic quality of the sound — had the same effect, researchers report August 7 in Current Biology. Unlike dolphins and songbirds, elephant seals don’t seem to vary pitch to communicate. Those vocal name tags serve a purpose. During breeding season, male elephant seals spend three months on land without food or water, competing with rivals for social status and mating rights. Fights between two blubbery car-sized animals can be brutal. “We’ve seen males lose their noses,” says Caroline Casey, a biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. For lower-ranking males, identifying an alpha male by his call and then backing off might prevent a beach brawl. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017

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: 23859 - Posted: 07.21.2017

By STEPH YIN Whales and songbirds produce sounds resembling human music, and chimpanzees and crows use tools. But only one nonhuman animal is known to marry these two skills. Palm cockatoos from northern Australia modify sticks and pods and use them to drum regular rhythms, according to new research published in Science Advances on Wednesday. In most cases, males drop beats in the presence of females, suggesting they perform the skill to show off to mates. The birds even have their own signature cadences, not unlike human musicians. This example is “the closest we have so far to musical instrument use and rhythm in humans,” said Robert Heinsohn, a professor of evolutionary and conservation biology at the Australian National University and an author of the paper. A palm cockatoo drumming performance starts with instrument fashioning — an opportunity to show off beak strength and cleverness (the birds are incredibly intelligent). Often, as a female is watching, a male will ostentatiously break a hefty stick off a tree and trim it to about the length of a pencil. Holding the stick, or occasionally a hard seedpod, with his left foot (parrots are typically left-footed), the male taps a beat on his tree perch. Occasionally he mixes in a whistle or other sounds from an impressive repertoire of around 20 syllables. As he grows more aroused, the crest feathers on his head become erect. Spreading his wings, he pirouettes and bobs his head deeply, like an expressive pianist. He uncovers his red cheek patches — the only swaths of color on his otherwise black body — and they fill with blood, brightening like a blush. Over seven years, Dr. Heinsohn and his collaborators collected audio and video recordings of 18 male palm cockatoos exhibiting such behaviors in Australia’s Cape York Peninsula, where the birds are considered vulnerable because of aluminum ore mining. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 23790 - Posted: 06.29.2017

By Julie Hecht I have been scaring dog lovers for nearly a decade, and Tamas Farago—lead researcher behind a new study on dog growls and cross-species communication—is mostly to blame. I met Farago in 2010 when visiting his research group—the Family Dog Project at Eotvos Lorand University—to conduct my Masters research. By then, Farago was already immersed in the study of dog vocalizations—particularly their barks and growls—so when my study concluded and it was time to leave Budapest, I departed with not only a deep appreciation for paprika and palinka, but also a few audio clips of dogs growling, courtesy of Farago. Since then, whenever I give a talk about canine science, audience members are sure to chuckle, their faces brightening, as recordings of a dog’s breathy, garbled, fast-paced, play growls take over the room. But when I play the low, elongated aggressive growls corresponding to a dog being approached by a threatening stranger or a dog guarding food, even my hair will often stand up. These growls mean business. If a dog happens to be attending the talk—not that I hold lectures for dogs, but if a human brought their dog—I take note before playing the growls. This is because a 2010 study by Farago and colleagues found that dogs not only listen to growls, but extract meaningful information from them. Here’s how they figured this out: In the study, dogs entered a room where they came across a bone. Fine. Normal so far. Just a bone sitting all alone. But unbeknownst to the dogs, a speaker was concealed in a covered crate sitting just behind the bone, and as the dogs approached, one of three growls was played from the speaker (food guarding, threatening stranger, or play). Excellent work sneaky researchers! © 2017 Scientific American

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: 23672 - Posted: 05.29.2017

Nicola Davis Humans can determine a dog’s mood by the sound of its growl, scientists have found, with women showing greater ability than men. While previous studies have found that humans can unpick the context of barks, the latest study investigated whether the same was true of canine grumbles, with some previous research suggesting humans struggle to differentiate between playful and aggressive vocalisations. “It is an important thing that humans are capable [of recognising] the emotional state of another species just based on the vocal characteristics,” said Tamás Faragó, first author of the study from Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary. To tackle the conundrum, Faragó and colleagues used previously captured recordings of 18 dogs growling in three contexts: guarding food from other dogs, playing tug-of-war with humans, and being threatened by the approach of a stranger. The researchers monitored several features, including the length of each growl and its frequency. Two sets of the recordings, which included two growls from each context, were played to 40 adults. Each participant was asked to record their impression of the first set of growls on a sliding scale, rating their perception of the dog for five emotions: fear, aggression, despair, happiness and playfulness. © 2017 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: 23621 - Posted: 05.17.2017

By Virginia Morell Humpback whales are known for their operatic songs that carry across the seas. Their calves, however, whisper, uttering soft squeaks and grunts to their mothers (which you can hear above). Now, a new study suggests that loud calf voices can also attract some unwanted visitors: male humpbacks, who might separate the pair by trying to mate with the mother, and killer whales, who dine on young humpbacks. To record their sounds, scientists placed temporary tagging devices on eight humpback whale mothers and calves in the Exmouth Gulf off Western Australia, where the young whales spend months suckling to gain enough weight for their annual migrations to the Antarctic or Arctic. After listening to the recordings, scientists say the calves’ careful whispers are not cries for food, as previously thought. Instead, they may help them stay in close contact with their mothers when swimming. And, say researchers, writing today in Functional Ecology, the low decibel sounds help keep would-be predators away from the “nursery.” © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

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: 23534 - Posted: 04.26.2017

By Jenny Rood To human ears, the trilling of birdsong ranks among nature’s most musical sounds. That similarity to human music is now inspiring researchers to apply music theory to avian vocalizations. For example, zebra finch neurobiologist Ofer Tchernichovski of the City University of New York, together with musician and musicologist Hollis Taylor, recently analyzed the song of the Australian pied butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis) and found an inverse relationship between motif complexity and repetition that paralleled patterns found in human music (R Soc Open Sci, 3:160357, 2016). Tchernichovski’s work also suggests that birds can perceive rhythm and change their calls in response. Last year, he and colleague Eitan Globerson, a symphony conductor at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance as well as a neurobiologist at Bar Ilan University in Israel, demonstrated that zebra finches, a vocal learning species, adapt their innate calls—as opposed to learned song—to avoid overlapping with unusual rhythmic patterns produced by a vocal robot (Curr Biol, 26:309-18, 2016). The researchers also found that both males and females use the brain’s song system to do this, although females do not learn song. But these complexities of birdsong might be more comparable to human speech than to human music, says Henkjan Honing, a music cognition scientist at the University of Amsterdam. Honing’s research suggests that some birds don’t discern rhythm well. Zebra finches, for example, seem to pay attention to pauses between notes on short time scales but have trouble recognizing overarching rhythmic patterns—one of the key skills thought necessary for musical perception (Front Psychol, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00730, 2016). © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 23368 - Posted: 03.17.2017

By Rachael Lallensack Goats know who their real friends are. A study published today in Royal Society Open Science shows that the animals can recognize what other goats look like and sound like, but only those they are closest with. Up until the late 1960s, the overwhelming assumption was that only humans could mentally keep track of how other individuals look, smell, and sound—what scientists call cross-modal recognition. We now know that many different kinds of animals can do this like horses, lions, crows, dogs, and certain primates. Instead of a lab, these researchers settled into Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in Boughton Monchelsea, U.K., to find out whether goats had the ability to recognize each other. To do so, they first recorded the calls of individual goats. Then, they set up three pens in the shape of a triangle in the sanctuary’s pasture. Equidistant between the two pens at the base of the triangle was a stereo speaker, camouflaged as to not distract the goat participants. A “watcher” goat stood at the peak of the triangle, and the two remaining corners were filled with the watcher’s “stablemate” (they share a stall at night) and a random herd member. Then, the team would play either the stablemate’s or the random goat’s call over the speaker and time how long it took for the watcher to match the call with the correct goat. They repeated this test again, but with two random goats. The researchers found that the watcher goat would look at the goat that matched the call quickly and for a longer time, but only in the test that included their stablemate. The results indicate that goats are not only capable of cross-modal recognition, but that they might also be able to use inferential reasoning, in other words, process of elimination. Think back to the test: Perhaps when the goat heard a call that it knew was not its pal, it inferred that it must have been the other one. © 2017 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: 23229 - Posted: 02.15.2017

Squid and their cephalopod brethren have been the inspiration for many a science fiction creature. Their slippery appendages, huge proportions, and inking abilities can be downright shudder-inducing. (See: Arrival.) But you should probably be more concerned by the cephalopod’s huge brain—which not only helps it solve tricky puzzles, but also lets it converse in its own sign language. Right now, you’re probably imagining twisted tentacles spelling out creepy cephalopod communiqués. But it’s not that: Certain kinds of squid send messages by manipulating the color of their skin. “Their body patterning is fantastic, fabulous,” says Chuan-Chin Chiao, a neuroscientist at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. They can display bands, or stripes, or turn completely dark or light. And Chiao is trying to crack their code. Chiao got his inspiration from physiologist B. B. Boycott, who in the 1960s showed that the cuttlefish brain was the control center for changing skin color. Boycott copied his technique from neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, who treated epilepsy patients by burning out the misbehaving bits of their brains. While their grey matter was exposed for surgery, Penfield also applied a gentle current through the electrodes in his patients’ brains. You know, just to see what would happen. A zap in one spot above the ears caused a tingle in the left hand. In another spot, tingles in the leg. And so Penfield discovered that the sensory cortex is a homunculus, with specific brain areas mapping onto different parts of your body. Over time, scientists tried the electrical stimulation technique on all kinds of animals—including Boycott’s cuttlefish.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 23199 - Posted: 02.08.2017

By Virginia Morell We often say the same sweet, nonsensical things to our dogs that we say to our babies—and in almost the same slow, high-pitched voice. Now, scientists have shown that puppies find our pooch-directed speech exciting, whereas older dogs are somewhat indifferent. The findings show, for the first time, that young dogs respond to this way of talking, and that it may help them learn words—as such talk does with human babies. To find out how dogs reacted to human speech, Nicolas Mathevon, a bioacoustician at the University of Lyon in Saint Étienne, France, and his colleagues first recorded the voices of 30 women as they looked at a dog’s photograph and read from a script, “Hi! Hello cutie! Who’s a good boy? Come here! Good boy! Yes! Come here sweetie pie! What a good boy!” (The scientists were afraid the women would ad lib if they spoke to a real dog.) The women also repeated the passage to a person. When the scientists compared the human- and dog-directed speech, they found that, as expected, the women spoke in distinctive, high-pitched, sing-song tones to the pooches—but not the humans. “It didn’t matter if it was a puppy or an adult dog,” Mathevon says. But the women did speak at an even higher pitch when looking at puppy photos. Next, the researchers played these recordings in short trials with 10 puppies and 10 adult dogs at a New York City animal shelter and videotaped their responses. Nine of the puppies reacted strongly, barking and running toward the loudspeaker even when the recording had been made for an older dog, the team reports today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Some even bent toward the loudspeaker in a play bow, a pose meant to initiate horseplay, suggesting they may regard dog-directed speech as “an invitation to play,” Mathevon says. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 23082 - Posted: 01.11.2017

By Alice Klein It’s something all whale-watchers yearn to see. The sight of whales breaking the surface and slapping their fins on the water is a true spectacle – but the animals don’t do it just for show. Instead, it appears that all that splashing is about messaging other whales, and the big splashes are for long-distance calls. Ailbhe Kavanagh at the University of Queensland in Gatton, Australia, and her colleagues studied 94 different groups of humpback whales migrating south along the Queensland coast in 2010 and 2011. Humpback whales regularly leap out of the water and twist on to their backs – an action known as breaching – and slap their tails and fins in a repetitive fashion. The resulting sounds travel underwater and could possibly communicate messages to other whales. Drowning in sound: The sad case of the baby beluga whales The team found evidence for this idea. The animals were significantly more likely to breach when the nearest other whale group was more than 4 kilometres away, suggesting that the body-slapping sound of breaching was used to signal to distant groups. In contrast, repetitive tail and pectoral-fin slapping appeared to be for close-range communication. There was a sudden increase in this behaviour just before new whales joined or the group split up. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 22948 - Posted: 12.05.2016

By NATALIE ANGIER Their word is their bond, and they do what they say — even if the “word” on one side is a loud trill and grunt, and, on the other, the excited twitterings of a bird. Researchers have long known that among certain traditional cultures of Africa, people forage for wild honey with the help of honeyguides — woodpecker-like birds that show tribesmen where the best beehives are hidden, high up in trees. In return for revealing the location of natural honey pots, the birds are rewarded with the leftover beeswax, which they eagerly devour. Now scientists have determined that humans and their honeyguides communicate with each other through an extraordinary exchange of sounds and gestures, which are used only for honey hunting and serve to convey enthusiasm, trustworthiness and a commitment to the dangerous business of separating bees from their hives. The findings cast fresh light on one of only a few known examples of cooperation between humans and free-living wild animals, a partnership that may well predate the love affair between people and their domesticated dogs by hundreds of thousands of years. Claire N. Spottiswoode, a behavioral ecologist at Cambridge University, and her colleagues reported in the journal Science that honeyguides advertise their scout readiness to the Yao people of northern Mozambique by flying up close while emitting a loud chattering cry. For their part, the Yao seek to recruit and retain honeyguides with a distinctive vocalization, a firmly trilled “brrr” followed by a grunted “hmm.” In a series of careful experiments, the researchers then showed that honeyguides take the meaning of the familiar ahoy seriously. The birds were twice as likely to offer sustained help to Yao foragers who walked along while playing recordings of the proper brrr-hmm signal than they were to participants with recordings of normal Yao words or the sounds of other animals. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 22468 - Posted: 07.23.2016

by Helen Thompson Young zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) learn to sing from a teacher, usually dad. Remembering dad’s tunes may even be hardwired into the birds’ brains. Researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan measured activity in the brains of male juvenile birds listening to recordings of singing adult males, including their fathers. The team focused its efforts on neurons in a part of the brain called the caudomedial nidopallium that’s thought to influence song learning and memory. A subset of neurons in the caudomedial nidopallium lit up in response to songs performed by dad but not those of strangers, the team reports June 21 in Nature Communications. The more baby birds heard songs, the more their neurons responded and the clearer their own songs became. Sleep and a neurotransmitter called GABA influenced this selectivity. The researchers suggest that this particular region of the brain stores song memories as finches learn to sing, and GABA may drive the storage of dad’s songs over others. Researchers played a variety of sounds for young zebra finches: their own song, dad’s song and songs and calls from other adult finches. Over time, their songs became more and more similar to that of their father. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016

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: 22351 - Posted: 06.23.2016

By SINDYA N. BHANOO Male zebra finches learn their courtship songs from their fathers. Now, a new study details the precise changes in brain circuitry that occur during that process. As a young male listens to his father’s song, networks of brain cells are activated that the younger bird will use later to sing the song himself, researchers have found. As the learning process occurs, inhibitory cells suppress further activity in the area and help sculpt the song into a permanent memory. “These inhibitory cells are really smart — once you’ve gotten a part of the song down, the area gets locked,” said Michael Long, a neuroscientist at NYU Langone Medical Center and an author of the new study, which appears in the journal Science. Zebra finches learn their courtship song from their fathers and reach sexual maturity in about 100 days. At this point, they ignore their fathers’ tutoring altogether, Dr. Long said. In their study, he and his colleagues played recorded courtship songs to young and old birds and monitored neural activity in their brains. In sexually mature birds, the courtship song did not elicit any neural response. Understanding the role of the inhibitory cells in the brain could help researchers develop ways to manipulate this network, Dr. Long said. “Maybe we could teach old birds new tricks,” he said. “And extrapolating widely, maybe we could even do this in mammals, maybe even humans, and enrich learning.” © 2016 The New York Times Company

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: 21798 - Posted: 01.19.2016

By Emily Underwood The boisterous songs a male zebra finch sings to his mate might not sound all that melodious to humans—some have compared them to squeaky dog toys—but the courtship tunes are stunningly complex, with thousands of variations. Now, a new study helps explain how the birds master such an impressive repertoire. As they learn from a tutor, usually their father, their brains tune out phrases they’ve already studied, allowing them to focus on unfamiliar sections bit by bit. The mechanism could help explain how other animals, including humans, learn complex skills, scientists say. The study is a “technical tour de force,” and “an important advance in our understanding of mechanisms of vocal learning and of motor learning generally,” says Erich Jarvis, a neuroscientist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Many species—including humans, chimpanzees, crows, dolphins, and even octopuses—learn complex behaviors by imitating their peers and parents, but little is known about how that process works on a neuronal level. In the case of zebra finches, young males spend the whole of their teenage lives trying to copy their fathers, says Michael Long, a neuroscientist at New York University in New York City. It comes out “all wrong” at first, but after practicing hundreds of times, the birds “sound a lot like dad.” In the new study, Long’s graduate student Daniela Vallentin used a tiny electrode implant to record the activity of neurons in a region of the finch brain called the HVC, which is essential for birdsong learning and production. Weighing less than a penny, the implant can be affixed to a bird’s head and record activity in the brains of freely moving and singing birds, Long says. The researchers also used a powerful light microscope to visualize the activity of individual neurons as the birds listened to a fake “tutor” bird that taught young finches only one “syllable” of a song at a time. © 2016 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: 21797 - Posted: 01.18.2016

by Sarah Zielinski When you get a phone call or a text from a friend or acquaintance, how fast you respond — or whether you even bother to pick up your phone — often depends on the quality of the relationship you have with that person. If it’s your best friend or mom, you probably pick up right away. If it’s that annoying coworker contacting you on Sunday morning, you might ignore it. Ring-tailed lemurs, it seems, are even pickier in who they choose to respond to. They only respond to calls from close buddies, a new study finds. These aren’t phone calls but contact calls. Ring-tailed lemurs live in female-dominated groups of 11 to 16, and up to 25, animals, and when the group is on the move, it’s common for one member to yell out a “meow!” and for other members to “meow!” back. A lemur may also make the call if it gets lost. The calls serve to keep the group together. The main way ring-tailed lemurs (and many other primates) build friendships, though, is through grooming. Grooming helps maintain health and hygiene and, more importantly, bonds between members. It’s a time-consuming endeavor, and animals have to be picky about who they bother to groom. Ipek Kulahci and colleagues at Princeton University wanted to see if there was a link between relationships built through grooming and vocal exchanges among ring-tailed lemurs. Contact calls don’t require nearly as much time or effort as grooming sessions, so it is possible that animals could be less discriminating when they respond to calls. But, the researchers reasoned, if the vocalizations were a way of maintaining the relationships built through painstaking grooming sessions, then the lemurs would be as picky in their responses as in their grooming partners. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015.

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: 21727 - Posted: 12.29.2015