NOVEMBER 12, 2019
The generation of species-specific singing in songbirds is associated with species-specific patterns of gene activity in brain regions called song nuclei, according to a study published November 12 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology by Kazuhiro Wada of Hokkaido University in Japan, and colleagues. According to the authors, the findings could be a promising step toward a better understanding of the contribution of multiple genes to the evolution of behaviors.
Learning of most complex motor skills, such as birdsong and human speech, is constrained in a manner that is characteristic of each species, but the mechanisms underlying species-specific learned behaviors remain poorly understood. Songbirds acquire species-specific songs through learning, which is also thought to depend on species-specific patterns of gene activity in song nuclei—brain regions known to be specialized for vocal learning and production.
In the new study, Wada and colleagues made use of two closely related songbird species—the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) and the owl finch (Taeniopygia bichenovii)—and also the hybrid offspring of matings between these two species. This allowed them to examine the relationship between inter-species differences in gene expression and the production of species-specific song patterns.