Neural control and processing of duet songs

Susanne Hoffmann, Lisa Trost, Andries ter Maat, Alena Lemazina

Duet singing is a form of social interaction between two individuals, which requires a precise temporal coordination of vocal production between both duet partners. Up to now, it was unknown how the brain controls this sophisticated cooperative behavior. Using miniature transmitters, we recorded the individual vocal activity in parallel with the premotor neural activity in pairs of free ranging wild white-browed sparrow weavers. Our unique data showed that preprogrammed temporal duet patterns in the brain of one bird was altered by the partner’s vocalizations to enable optimal coordination between both individuals (Hoffmann et al., 2019). Currently, we are investigating how the neural duet code can be manipulated by the partner’s sounds. We are recording the neural activity in auditory, instead of premotor, brain areas to learn how the own song and the partner’s song is processed by the auditory system. The duet song of white-browed sparrow weavers consists of several elements, called syllables. The repertoire of syllables is large in this bird species and the order of different syllables types is not constant in each duet bout. To gain a detailed picture of the internal structure of white-browed sparrow weaver duets, we are currently decrypting the code of syllables the animals use for duetting.

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