Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Like father, not like son

02.10.2013
The song of songbirds is a learned, complex behavior and subject to strong selective forces.

However, it is difficult to tease apart the influence of the genetic background and the environment on the expression of individual variation in song. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen in collaboration with international researchers now compared song and brain structure of parents and offspring in zebra finches that have been raised either with their genetic or foster parents.


Zebra finch pair with adult son
Image: Stefan Leitner

They also varied the amount of food during breeding. Remarkably, both song and the underlying brain structure had a low heritability and were strongly influenced by environmental factors.

A central topic in behavioral biology is the question, which aspects of a behavior are learned or expressed due to genetic predisposition. Today it is known that our personality and behavior are far less determined by the genetic background. Especially during development environmental factors can shape brain and behavior via so-called epigenetic effects. Thereby hormones play an important role. A shift in hormone concentrations in early life can have long lasting effects for an organism, whereas the same change in adults often may show only short-term changes. However, whether the influence of the environment has either strong or weak effects can largely depend on the individual genetic predisposition. However, it is relatively hard to discriminate the effects of the environment from that of the genes.

An attempt to tease apart these effects has been conducted by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in collaboration with an international team of scientists in zebra finch breeding pairs. Using partial cross-fostering the researchers exchanged half of the eggs within a nest making them to “cuckoo’s eggs”. Therefore half of the hatchlings were raised by their genetic parents, whereas the other half was raised by their foster parents. In addition they modified the availability of food by mixing the seeds with husks so that the parents had to spend more time searching for food. When the male offspring were adult at 100 days the researchers recorded their songs and analyzed the underlying neuroanatomy. This partial cross-fostering design enabled the researchers to tease apart the involvement of genotype, the rearing environment and nutritional effects to variation in song behavior and brain structure.

The results showed that heritability values were low for most song characteristics, except the number of song syllables and maximum frequency. On the other hand the common rearing environment including the song of the foster father mainly predicted the proportion of unique syllables in the songs of the sons, moreover this relationship was dependent on food availability. Even more striking results were found when the researchers investigated the brain anatomy. Heritability of brain variables was very low and strongly controlled by the environment. For example, an emergence of a clear relationship between brain mass and genotype is prevented by varying environmental quality.

This result was quite surprising as previous studies have found a high heritability of the song control system in the songbird brain, however these studies did not account for variation of the rearing environment. ”Being highly flexible in response to environmental conditions can maintain genetic variation and influences song learning and brain development” says Stefan Leitner, senior author of the study. (SL/HR)

Contact:
Dr. Stefan Leitner
leitner@orn.mpg.de
Phone +49 8157 932 389
Original Work:
Woodgate, J.L., Buchanan, K.L., Bennett, A.T.D., Catchpole, C.K., Brighton, R. & Leitner, S.
Environmental and genetic control of brain and song structure in the zebra finch

Evolution published online September 19, 2013, DOI: 10.1111/evo.12261

Dr. Sabine Spehn | Max-Planck-Institut
Further information:
http://www.mpg.de/7540691/zebrafinches_song_heritability

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Study shines light on brain cells that coordinate movement
26.06.2017 | University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine

nachricht New insight into a central biological dogma on ion transport
26.06.2017 | Aarhus University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Study shines light on brain cells that coordinate movement

26.06.2017 | Life Sciences

Smooth propagation of spin waves using gold

26.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Switchable DNA mini-machines store information

26.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>