Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Bird communication: chirping with syntax

09.03.2016

People communicate meaning by combining words according to syntactic rules. But this ability is not limited solely to humans: A group of evolutionary biologists from Tokyo, Uppsala and the University of Zurich have discovered that Japanese great tits, like humans, have also evolved syntax. By combining their various calls using specific rules, these songbirds can communicate specific messages and engage in complex interactions.

Language is one of the defining characteristics of human beings: It enables us to generate unlimited meanings from a finite number of phonetic elements. Using syntactic rules, humans are able to combine words to form phrases and sentences, and thus ascribe meaning to various things and activities.


Japanese great tits communicate according to syntactic rules.

Image: University of Zurich

Research on communication systems suggests that non-human primates and birds, too, have evolved the ability to assign meaning to arbitrary vocal elements. But until now, the evolution of syntax has been considered unique to human language.

Warning signal plus mating call means “flock together”

Evolutionary biologists at The Graduate University for Advanced Studies in Japan, the Uppsala University in Sweden and the University of Zurich are now challenging this view. For the first time, these researchers have demonstrated that Japanese great tits (Parus minor) have developed syntactic rules. These small birds are known for their large vocal repertoire, and the team discovered that they use a variety of calls and combinations of calls to interact with one another in specific situations.

The combination of sounds such as the “ABC calls”, for instance, means “watch out!”. The great tits use them when a sparrowhawk or another predator is nearby – a potentially dangerous situation. By contrast, “D calls” mean “come over here,” a call the birds use after discovering a new source of food or when wanting their partner to come to the nest.

Tits frequently combine these two calls into ABC-D calls when, for instance, the birds encounter predators and join forces to deter them. When hearing a recording of these calls played in the natural order of ABC-D, the birds are alarmed and flock together. When, however, the call ordering is artificially reversed to D-ABC, the birds do not respond.

Generating meaning by combining limited vocabulary

The researchers have therefore drawn the conclusion that syntax is not unique to human language: It has also evolved independently in birds. “The results lead to a better understanding of the underlying factors in the evolution of syntax. Because the tits combine different calls, they are able to create new meaning with their limited vocabulary. That allows them to trigger different behavioral reactions and coordinate complex social interactions,” says Dr. Michael Griesser, at the Institute of Anthropology at the University of Zurich. He believes these factors may well have contributed to the development of language in humans.

Literature:
Toshitaka N. Suzuki, David Wheatcroft, Michael Griesser. Experimental evidence for compositional syntax in bird calls. Nature Communications. March 8, 2016. doi: 10.1038/ncomms10986

Weitere Informationen:

http://www.mediadesk.uzh.ch/articles/2016/kohlmeisen-zwitschern-nach-sprachaehnl...

Kurt Bodenmüller | Universität Zürich

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Bare bones: Making bones transparent
27.04.2017 | California Institute of Technology

nachricht Link Discovered between Immune System, Brain Structure and Memory
26.04.2017 | Universität Basel

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Bare bones: Making bones transparent

27.04.2017 | Life Sciences

Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions

27.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

From volcano's slope, NASA instrument looks sky high and to the future

27.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>