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Birdsong independent of brain size
Date:6/13/2011

This release is available in German.

The brains of all vertebrates display gender-related differences. In songbirds, for example, the size of the brain areas that control their singing behaviour could be linked to the size of their song repertoires. In many songbird species, only the males sing and indeed, they do have larger song control areas in the brain than females. However, even species where both sexes sing identically, display the same sex differences in their brain structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen have now demonstrated for the first time in the white-browed sparrow weaver, an African songbird, that the extent of these sex differences in the brain varies according to social status, and cannot be explained by singing behaviour as previously thought (PLoS One, 8 June 2011).

The white-browed sparrow weaver is very common in eastern Africa. These weaver birds live in groups of up to ten individuals with a pronounced dominance hierarchy, in which only the dominant pair reproduces. They are often heard singing a rapid succession of alternating notes, which both sexes can sing, known as duets. Whereas all members of the group sing the rather short duet song, which can develop into a veritable chorus performance when several singers are involved; the dominant male additionally sings a long and complex solo song that it only performs at dawn during the breeding season.

Neurobiologists have long been interested in how these sex differences in song behaviour are reflected in the birds' brains. According to the hitherto accepted hypothesis, the structural sex differences in the brains are largest in species in which singing behaviour also varies significantly between males and females or in which only the males sing. "With the white-browed sparrow weaver, we were able to examine in the
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Contact: Manfred Gahr
gahr@orn.mpg.de
49-815-793-2276
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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