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Proc Biol Sci. 2017 May 31;284(1855). pii: 20170054. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2017.0054.

Courtship song preferences in female zebra finches are shaped by developmental auditory experience.

Author information

Integrated program in Neuroscience, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Department of Biology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Integrated program in Neuroscience, Montreal, Quebec, Canada


The performance of courtship signals provides information about the behavioural state and quality of the signaller, and females can use such information for social decision-making (e.g. mate choice). However, relatively little is known about the degree to which the perception of and preference for differences in motor performance are shaped by developmental experiences. Furthermore, the neural substrates that development could act upon to influence the processing of performance features remains largely unknown. In songbirds, females use song to identify males and select mates. Moreover, female songbirds are often sensitive to variation in male song performance. Consequently, we investigated how developmental exposure to adult male song affected behavioural and neural responses to song in a small, gregarious songbird, the zebra finch. Zebra finch males modulate their song performance when courting females, and previous work has shown that females prefer the high-performance, female-directed courtship song. However, unlike females allowed to hear and interact with an adult male during development, females reared without developmental song exposure did not demonstrate behavioural preferences for high-performance courtship songs. Additionally, auditory responses to courtship and non-courtship song were altered in adult females raised without developmental song exposure. These data highlight the critical role of developmental auditory experience in shaping the perception and processing of song performance.


EGR1; auditory processing; preference; social context; zebra finch

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