Developmental stress affects the attractiveness of male song and female choice in the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata)

Abstract

Developmental stress has recently been shown to have adverse effects upon adult male song structure in birds, which may well act as an honest signal of male quality to discriminating females. However, it still remains to be shown if females can discriminate between the songs of stressed and non-stressed males. Here we use a novel experimental design using an active choice paradigm to investigate preferences in captive female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Nine females were exposed to ten pairs of songs by previously stressed and non-stressed birds that had learned their song from the same tutor. Song pairs differed significantly in terms of song complexity, with songs of stressed males exhibiting lower numbers of syllables and fewer different syllables in a phrase. Song rate and peak frequency did not differ between stressed and non-stressed males. Females showed a significant preference for non-stressed songs in terms of directed perching activity and time spent on perches. Our results therefore indicate that developmental stress affects not only the structure of male song, but that such structural differences are biologically relevant to female mate choice decisions.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

References

  1. Andersson M (1994) Sexual selection. Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Brainard MS, Doupe AJ (2002) What songbirds teach us about learning. Nature 417:351–358

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Buchanan KL, Spencer KA, Goldsmith AR, Catchpole CK (2003) Song is an honest signal of past developmental stress in the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris). Proc Rl Soc Lond B 270:1149–1156

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Catchpole CK, Slater PJB (1995) Bird song: biological themes and variations. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK

    Google Scholar 

  5. Clayton NC, Prove E (1989) Song discrimination in female Zebra Finches and Bengalese Finches. Anim Behav 38:352–354

    Google Scholar 

  6. Collins SA (1999) Is female preference for male repertoires due to sensory bias? Proc R Soc Lond B 266:2309–2314

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Gentner TQ, Hulse SH (2000) Female European starling preference and choice for variation in conspecific male song. Anim Behav 59:443–458

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Helekar SA, Marsh S, Viswanath NS, Rosenfield DB (2000) Acoustic pattern variations in the female-directed birdsongs of a colony of laboratory-bred zebra finches. Behav Proc 49:99–110

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Kirn JR, Fishman Y, Sasportas K, Alvarez-Buylla A, Nottebohm F (1999) Fate of new neurons in adult canary high vocal center during the first 30 days after their formation. J Compar Neurol 411:487–494

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Kittelberger JM, Mooney R (1999) Lesions of an avian forebrain nucleus that disrupt song development alter synaptic connectivity and transmission in the vocal premotor pathway. J Neurosci 19:9385–9398

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Nakagawa S (2004) A farewell to Bonferroni: the problems of low statistical power and publication bias. Behav Ecol 15:1044–1045

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Nowicki S, Peters S, Podos J (1998) Song learning, early nutrition and sexual selection in songbirds. Am Zool 38:179–190

    Google Scholar 

  13. Nowicki S, Searcy WA, Peters A (2002a) Brain development, song learning and mate choice in birds: a review and experimental test of the “nutritional stress hypothesis”. J Comp Physiol a—Sens Neur Behav Physiol 188:1003–1014

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Nowicki S, Searcy WA, Peters S (2002b) Quality of song learning affects female response to male bird song. Proc R Soc Lond B 269:1949–1954

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Rice WL (1989) Analysing tables of statistical tests. Evolution 43:223–225

    Google Scholar 

  16. Riebel K (2000) Early exposure leads to repeatable preferences for male song in female zebra finches. Proc R Soc Lond B 267:2553–2558

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Riebel K, Slater PJB (1998) Testing female chaffinch song preferences by operant conditioning. Anim Behav 56:1443–1453

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Riebel K, Smallegange IM (2003) Does zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) preference for the (familiar) father’s song generalize to the songs of unfamiliar brothers? J Comp Psychol 117:61–66

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Searcy WA, Marler P (1987) Response of sparrows to deaf and isolation-reared males: further evidence for innate auditory templates. Dev Psycho Biol 20:509–519

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Searcy WA, Yasukawa K (1996) Song and female choice. In: Kroodsma DE, Miller EH (eds) Ecology and evolution of acoustic communication in birds. Cornell University Press, New York, pp 454–473

    Google Scholar 

  21. Spencer KA, Buchanan KL, Goldsmith AR, Catchpole CK (2003) Song as an honest indicator of developmental history in the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata). Hormon Behav 44:132–139

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Spencer KA, Buchanan KL, Goldsmith AR, Catchpole CK (2004) Developmental stress, social rank and song complexity in the European starling (Stumus vulgaris). Biol Lett 271:S121–S123

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Vallet E, Kreutzer M (1995) Female canaries are sexually responsive to special song phrases. Anim Behav 49:1603–1610

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Vallet E, Beme I, Kreutzer M (1998) Two-note syllables in canary songs elicit high levels of sexual display. Anim Behav 55:291–297

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. Zahavi A (1975) Mate selection—a selection for a handicap. J Theoret Biol 53:205–214

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

Funding was obtained from the BBSRC (research grant code 7/S14062) and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851. We thank Sadie Iles-Ryan and Diane Flower for animal husbandry, and Roger Francis for assistance with licensing. All work was conducted under Home Office License no. PPL 30/1777, and therefore conforms to the current laws on animal use in the UK

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to K. A. Spencer.

Additional information

Communicated by W. A. Searcy

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Spencer, K.A., Wimpenny, J.H., Buchanan, K.L. et al. Developmental stress affects the attractiveness of male song and female choice in the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 58, 423–428 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-005-0927-5

Download citation

Keywords

  • Bird song
  • Corticosterone
  • Developmental stress
  • Mate choice
  • Sexual selection