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Song discrimination learning in zebra finches induces highly divergent responses to novel songs

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  • Machteld Nicolette Verzijden, The Institute of Biology Leiden, Gorlaeus Laboratoria, Leiden University, Denmark
  • Eric Etman, Unknown
  • Caroline van Heijningen, Unknown
  • Marianne van der Linden, Unknown
  • Carel ten Cate, The Institute of Biology Leiden, Gorlaeus Laboratoria, Leiden University, Netherlands
Perceptual biases can shape the evolution of signal form. Understanding the origin and direction of such biases is therefore crucial for understanding signal evolution. Many animals learn about species-specific signals. Discrimination learning using simple stimuli varying in one dimension ( e. g. amplitude, wavelength) can result in perceptual biases with preferences for specific novel stimuli, depending on the stimulus dimensions. We examine how this translates to discrimination learning involving complex communication signals; birdsongs. Zebra finches ( Taeniopygia guttata) were trained to discriminate between two artificial songs, using a Go/No-Go procedure. The training songs in experiment 1 differed in the number of repeats of a particular element. The songs in experiment 2 differed in the position of an odd element in a series of repeated elements. We examined generalization patterns by presenting novel songs with more or fewer repeated elements ( experiment 1), or with the odd element earlier or later in the repeated element sequence ( experiment 2). Control birds were trained with only one song. The generalization curves obtained from ( i) control birds, ( ii) experimental birds in experiment 1, and ( iii) experimental birds in experiment 2 showed large and systematic differences from each other. Birds in experiment 1, but not 2, responded more strongly to specific novel songs than to training songs, showing 'peak shift'. The outcome indicates that learning about communication signals may give rise to perceptual biases that may drive signal evolution.
Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Pages (from-to)295-301
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes

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