Difference between the vocalizations of two sister species of pigeons explained in dynamical terms
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- Alonso, R.G., Kopuchian, C., Amador, A. et al. J Comp Physiol A (2016) 202: 361. doi:10.1007/s00359-016-1082-3
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Vocal communication is an unique example, where the nonlinear nature of the periphery can give rise to complex sounds even when driven by simple neural instructions. In this work we studied the case of two close-related bird species, Patagioenasmaculosa and Patagioenaspicazuro, whose vocalizations differ only in the timbre. The temporal modulation of the fundamental frequency is similar in both cases, differing only in the existence of sidebands around the fundamental frequency in the P. maculosa. We tested the hypothesis that the qualitative difference between these vocalizations lies in the nonlinear nature of the syrinx. In particular, we propose that the roughness of maculosa’s vocalizations is due to an asymmetry between the right and left vibratory membranes, whose nonlinear dynamics generate the sound. To test the hypothesis, we generated a biomechanical model for vocal production with an asymmetric parameter Q with which we can control the level of asymmetry between these membranes. Using this model we generated synthetic vocalizations with the principal acoustic features of both species. In addition, we confirmed the anatomical predictions by making post mortem inspection of the syrinxes, showing that the species with tonal song (picazuro) has a more symmetrical pair of membranes compared to maculosa.