The vocal repertoire of songbirds not only consists of complex song which is mainly uttered in the breeding season but is complemented by a large number of simpler calls. Their function however is still poorly understood. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen in Germany now recorded the calls of individual zebra finches behaving freely inside groups, and found that the birds change their call repertoire and calling behaviour in the group over the course of the breeding cycle. Using tiny microphone transmitters they discovered perfectly timed patterns of call communication that were associated with successful egg-laying.
Songbird song is a conspicuous behaviour that not only fascinates bird lovers but has turned into a major scientific research objective. Due to their complexity, songs can easily be quantified and song changes can be related to various biological processes.
Calls are less conspicuous and might be less complex in structure, therefore the investigation of calls has been rather neglected by researchers – even though they are frequently used by songbirds for direct communication.
This is also the case in the zebra finch, a songbird native to Australia that lives in colonies and produces several thousand calls per day. So far it was not possible to investigate in detail the role of these calls due to the difficulty to record and assign individual calls in the presence of conspecifics, let alone in a large group.
Using state-of-the art recording techniques, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology now succeeded at this task. They equipped the birds with small radio transmitter backpacks and were able to record the entire call repertoire of the individuals within a group.
In total 32 finches wearing this backpack were first kept in single-sex aviaries to get used to this high-tech equipment. Recordings began when the researchers transferred four males and four females into a large aviary.
Shortly thereafter the birds started to form pairs and as soon as nesting material was available, they immediately commenced with nest building which was followed, albeit not in all pairs, by egg laying. The researchers found that during the breeding cycle, but especially when pairs began building nests, the birds changed the usage of certain calls and started using different call types, in particular more so-called “cackle” calls.
Calls were characterised by exactly timed back-and-forth interactions, and, over time, were directed more and more towards their partner than other members of the group.
Pairs that performed more of these call exchanges during nesting were more likely to lay eggs. Thus, both the timing and the type of calls used in pair communication are important for a successful breeding attempt, says Lisa Gill, first author of the study. Zebra finches form life-long pairs and live in predominantly arid habitats in Australia.
They are able to breed year-round as long as their unpredictable environment permits, for example when sudden rainfall occurs. For this, pairs must be able to quickly change their reproductive status for successful breeding. “A flexible call repertoire in response to a changing environment could be important for the birds’ biological fitness”, concludes Gill. (SL)
Patterns of call communication between group-housed zebra finches change during the breeding cycle
Lisa F. Gill, Wolfgang Goymann, Andries Ter Maat, Manfred Gahr
Published on elife (Open Access) on October 6, 2015: http://elifesciences.org/content/4/e07770
Department of Behavioural Neurobiology
Max Planck Institute for Ornithology
Tel.: 08157 932 388
Dr. Sabine Spehn | Max-Planck-Institut für Ornithologie
Human skin is an important source of ammonia emissions
27.05.2020 | Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie
Biotechnology: Triggered by light, a novel way to switch on an enzyme
27.05.2020 | Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster
In living cells, enzymes drive biochemical metabolic processes enabling reactions to take place efficiently. It is this very ability which allows them to be used as catalysts in biotechnology, for example to create chemical products such as pharmaceutics. Researchers now identified an enzyme that, when illuminated with blue light, becomes catalytically active and initiates a reaction that was previously unknown in enzymatics. The study was published in "Nature Communications".
Enzymes: they are the central drivers for biochemical metabolic processes in every living cell, enabling reactions to take place efficiently. It is this very...
Early detection of tumors is extremely important in treating cancer. A new technique developed by researchers at the University of California, Davis offers a significant advance in using magnetic resonance imaging to pick out even very small tumors from normal tissue. The work is published May 25 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
researchers at the University of California, Davis offers a significant advance in using magnetic resonance imaging to pick out even very small tumors from...
Microelectronics as a key technology enables numerous innovations in the field of intelligent medical technology. The Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT coordinates the BMBF cooperative project "I-call" realizing the first electronic system for ultrasound-based, safe and interference-resistant data transmission between implants in the human body.
When microelectronic systems are used for medical applications, they have to meet high requirements in terms of biocompatibility, reliability, energy...
Thomas Heine, Professor of Theoretical Chemistry at TU Dresden, together with his team, first predicted a topological 2D polymer in 2019. Only one year later, an international team led by Italian researchers was able to synthesize these materials and experimentally prove their topological properties. For the renowned journal Nature Materials, this was the occasion to invite Thomas Heine to a News and Views article, which was published this week. Under the title "Making 2D Topological Polymers a reality" Prof. Heine describes how his theory became a reality.
Ultrathin materials are extremely interesting as building blocks for next generation nano electronic devices, as it is much easier to make circuits and other...
Scientists took a leukocyte as the blueprint and developed a microrobot that has the size, shape and moving capabilities of a white blood cell. Simulating a blood vessel in a laboratory setting, they succeeded in magnetically navigating the ball-shaped microroller through this dynamic and dense environment. The drug-delivery vehicle withstood the simulated blood flow, pushing the developments in targeted drug delivery a step further: inside the body, there is no better access route to all tissues and organs than the circulatory system. A robot that could actually travel through this finely woven web would revolutionize the minimally-invasive treatment of illnesses.
A team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (MPI-IS) in Stuttgart invented a tiny microrobot that resembles a white blood cell...
19.05.2020 | Event News
07.04.2020 | Event News
06.04.2020 | Event News
27.05.2020 | Information Technology
27.05.2020 | Physics and Astronomy
27.05.2020 | Earth Sciences