Isolated birds learn ‘wild-type’ song over several generations

May 4th, 2009 - 3:47 pm ICT by ANI  

London, May 4 (ANI): Highlighting the role of genetics in the development of culture, a new study have found that a bird raised in isolation will, over several generations, produce a song similar to that sung by the species in the wild.

Biologists at The City College of New York (CCNY) and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) conducted the study on zebra finches.

Dr. Olga Feher, who performed the experiment for her dissertation at CCNY, said that first generation male zebra finches raised in isolation produced an unstructured, often abnormal-sounding song that was quite different from the “wild-type” song.

These birds were paired in a “tutor-pupil” relationship with a new generation of zebra finches that imitated their tutors’ songs, but changed certain characteristics.

The researchers observed that the alterations accumulated over generations and by the fourth generation the song had evolved toward the “wild-type” song.”

“We were surprised the song reverted back to the “wild-type” song so fast,” nature quoted Feher as saying.

She added: “Culture appears to be encoded in the birds. It just needed a few generations to emerge,” said Dr. Ofer Tchernichovski, CCNY Professor of Biology.

It was found that the same pattern of evolution in the song occurred whether the subsequent generations of male birds were raised among female birds, which do not sing, and siblings in a colony setting or just among isolate males one-on-one.

The researchers observed a similar phenomenon among deaf children in Nicaragua, where children developed a rudimentary sign language in the home that spontaneously evolved into a more sophisticated sign language when they were placed in a school with other deaf children.

Feher concluded that the experiment “identified some encoded traits of culture.”

This finding could be used to explain why different species develop different song cultures,” added Tchernichovski.

The study was published in the latest edition of Nature. (ANI)

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