Neurophysiological response selectivity for conspecific songs over synthetic sounds in the auditory forebrain of non-singing female songbirds
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Female choice plays a critical role in the evolution of male acoustic displays. Yet there is limited information on the neurophysiological basis of female songbirds’ auditory recognition systems. To understand the neural mechanisms of how non-singing female songbirds perceive behaviorally relevant vocalizations, we recorded responses of single neurons to acoustic stimuli in two auditory forebrain regions, the caudal lateral mesopallium (CLM) and Field L, in anesthetized adult female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Using various metrics of response selectivity, we found consistently higher response strengths for unfamiliar conspecific songs compared to tone pips and white noise in Field L but not in CLM. We also found that neurons in the left auditory forebrain had lower response strengths to synthetics sounds, leading to overall higher neural selectivity for song in neurons of the left hemisphere. This laterality effect is consistent with previously published behavioral data in zebra finches. Overall, our results from Field L are in parallel and from CLM are in contrast with the patterns of response selectivity reported for conspecific songs over synthetic sounds in male zebra finches, suggesting some degree of sexual dimorphism of auditory perception mechanisms in songbirds.
KeywordsAuditory cortex Lateralization Mate choice Natural sounds Vocal recognition
All protocols were approved by institutional animal ethics committees and followed governmental guidelines. For assistance and discussions, we are grateful to N. Amin, T. Fremouw, T. Jonsson, F. Kubke, E. Lacey, P. Logerot, B. Raymond, S. Shaevitz, K. Sockman, M. Wild, and anonymous referees. This study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (to FET), an NIH service award (to SMNW), and funding from the University of Auckland Research Council and the New Zealand Marsden Fund (to MEH).
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