Social modulation of singing behavior in songbirds

Pepe Alcami, Shouwen Ma

Songs from songbirds are a motor skill learned during specific periods, reaching a 'crystallized' state during development for some songbird species, or seasonally -every spring- for other species. Crystallized songs are assumed not to change. However, songs are used by males to seduce females and to defend territories. For both functions, songs remaining plastic would be an advantage that allows songbirds to adapt their singing behavior to ongoing challenges. Interestingly, since songbirds are often studied alone or in pairs (typically a singing male and a non-singing female), the social influence of other singers on singing behavior remains mostly elusive. Specifically, whether crystallized songs are still plastic under the social influence of other songbirds has remained little investigated. With miniature microphone transmitters, we investigate how the song of male canaries changes when it is overlapped by another male during singing duels. Specifically, we are investigating which song properties change in social contexts and how the social influence on canary singing behavior is encoded in the brain.

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