Juvenile zebra finches can use multiple strategies to learn the same song

Field Research Center, The Rockefeller University, 495 Tyrrel Road, Millbrook, NY 12545, USA.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Impact Factor: 9.67). 01/2005; 101(52):18177-82. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0408065101
Source: PubMed


Does the ontogeny of vocal imitation follow a set program that, given a target sound, unfolds in a predictable manner, or is it more like problem solving, with many possible solutions? We report that juvenile male zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata, can master their imitation of the same song in various ways; these developmental trajectories are sensitive to the social setting in which the bird grows up. A variety of vocal developmental trajectories have also been described in infants. Are these many ways to learn unique to the vocal domain or a hallmark of advanced brain function?

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Available from: Wan-Chun Liu, Aug 21, 2014
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    • "Our results imply that dopamine receptors belonging to families with opposing functions in mammals (Kebabian and Calne 1979) as well as in birds (Ding and Perkel 2002) could be involved in opposing features of song. We do not know if changes in densities of dopamine receptors are involved also in song learning when in zebra finch it is transformed from variable to stereotyped version (Tchernichovski et al. 2001; Liu et al. 2004). The computational model of birdsong learning assumes that the striatal Area X receiving midbrain dopaminergic projections provides teaching signal for song learning (Doya and Sejnowski 1995). "
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    ABSTRACT: Song learning and production have many parallels with speech and the mechanisms of their control have been studied extensively. There is an increasing amount of evidence that the dopaminergic system is involved in song learning and maintenance. Dopamine receptors show distinct expression in most of the song nuclei and the highest levels in Area X of the striatum. Here we have investigated whether the mRNA expressions for D1A, D1B, and D2 receptors in Area X are associated with quantitative and/or qualitative characteristics of zebra finch song. We found that quantitative parameters of song such as the amount of songs sang, motif duration, and numbers of distinct syllables and/or notes per motif did not correlate with expression of D1A, D1B nor D2 receptors in Area X or surrounding striatum. However, the mean accuracy of the song correlated negatively with D1A receptor expression levels and the sequential match correlated positively with D2 receptor expression levels in Area X relative to the surrounding striatum. These data suggest that dopamine receptor densities in Area X are associated with song variability.
    Full-text · Article · Sep 2012 · General Physiology and Biophysics
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    • "Preferential attention to a single partner might be required for 'exceptional learning' (Pepperberg 1997; West et al. 1983). Young male zebra finches raised by their mother alone and housed singly with an unfamiliar adult male usually produce a 'carbon' copy of their tutor's song (Figure 1. C–D; Haesler et al. 2007; Liu et al. 2004; Tchernichovski et al. 1999). Interacting with a single tutor may have a permissive role in song learning by increasing the pupil's attention towards the tutor's song. "
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    ABSTRACT: Vocal imitation in songbirds exhibits interesting parallels to infant speech development and is currently the model system of choice for exploring the behavioural, molecular and electrophysiological substrates of vocal learning. Among songbirds, the Zebra Finch ( Taeniopygia guttata ) is currently used as the ‘flying mouse’ of birdsong research. Only males sing and they develop their song primarily during a short sensitive period in early life. They learn their speciesspecific song patterns by memorizing and imitating the songs of conspecifics, mainly adults. Since Immelmann's pioneering work, thousands of zebra finches have been raised in strictly controlled auditory environments to examine how their experience affected their songs. In this article, I review the different experimental procedures that have been used in the laboratory to study the social influences on song learning in the Zebra Finch. Poor song learning was observed using passive playback of taped songs, whereas self-eliciting exposure using operant tutoring techniques induced significant learning, but with a high interindividual variability. The success of the training paradigm is often measured by the quality of imitation of the songs to which the young bird is exposed. Using empirical evidence from the field and the laboratory, I will also discuss this issue, by summarizing possible advantages and disadvantages of producing a perfect imitation. So far, the best method to get a close copy of a song model in the Zebra Finch is to place a single young bird with an adult male. This situation, which is rather unnatural, does not meet the criteria for precise control necessary in experimental conditions. Optimizing the methods used to train a zebra finch to learn a song, in order to be able to predict the imitation success, will improve our understanding of the dynamics of vocal production learning. It would also consolidate this species as a research model of relevance to human speech development and disorders. Keywords: Zebra Finch; birdsong; learning; development; memory; social influences
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2010 · Interaction Studies
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    • "It has been observed in zebra finches that some birds assemble their final syntax combinations via serial repetition of a single precursor syllable that is modified to give rise to different syllables (Liu et al., 2004; Tchernichovski et al., 2001). Others assemble global imitations of tutor song and over time refine the phonology of the constituent precursor syllables (Liu et al., 2004). Juvenile chipping sparrows produce several precursor songs, each consisting of a single syllable, and subsequently refine the syllable structure in a single song that becomes crystallized (Liu & Nottebohm , 2007). "
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    ABSTRACT: Syntactical cues play an important role in song learning in songbirds. White-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys), whose song typically consists of four to five different phrases, fail to construct normal songs if exposed to all phrase types presented singly (Plamondon, Goller, & Rose, 2008; Soha & Marler 2001b). The specific role of acquired syntax information in guiding ontogenetic trajectories of syntax, however, and the respective contributions of instructive and selective processes to syntax ontogeny remain unknown. We tutored white-crowned sparrows with syntax information ranging from acoustic isolation to full song. Manipulation of tutor syntax influenced developmental trajectories of syntax assembly, suggesting that instructive processes contribute to syntax ontogeny. Early in development, birds tutored with full song or phrase pairs preferentially produced phrase pairings matching tutor syntax. Birds tutored with single phrases showed decreased diversity of pairwise syntactical combinations immediately after tutoring compared with other tutor groups, further illustrating the role of instructive processes. Overproduction of song material was also observed, suggesting that selective forces play a role in syntax development as well. Finally, consistent with the notion that innate influences guide syntax ontogeny, birds from all groups exhibited many similarities in trajectories of syntax assembly.
    Preview · Article · May 2010 · Journal of Comparative Psychology
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