Research Summary: Development of Auditory-Vocal Perceptual Skills in Songbirds

ABSTRACT

Songbirds are one of the few groups of animals that learn the sounds used for vocal communication during development. Like humans, songbirds memorize vocal sounds based on auditory experience with vocalizations of adult “tutors”, and then use auditory feedback of self-produced vocalizations to gradually match their motor output to the memory of tutor sounds. In humans, investigations of early vocal learning have focused mainly on perceptual skills of infants, whereas studies of songbirds have focused on measures of vocal production. In order to fully exploit songbirds as a model for human speech, understand the neural basis of learned vocal behavior, and investigate links between vocal perception and production, studies of songbirds must examine both behavioral measures of perception and neural measures of discrimination during development. Here we used behavioral and electrophysiological assays of the ability of songbirds to distinguish vocal calls of varying frequencies at different stages of vocal learning. The results show that neural tuning in auditory cortex mirrors behavioral improvements in the ability to make perceptual distinctions of vocal calls as birds are engaged in vocal learning. Thus, separate measures of neural discrimination and behavioral perception yielded highly similar trends during the course of vocal development. The timing of this improvement in the ability to distinguish vocal sounds correlates with our previous work showing substantial refinement of axonal connectivity in cortico-basal ganglia pathways necessary for vocal learning.

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Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 20-December-2012

Author(s): Miller-Sims V., Bottjer S.

Link: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0052365

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