Neural processing of short-term recurrence in songbird vocal communication

PloS One
Gabriel J L Beckers, Manfred Gahr


Many situations involving animal communication are dominated by recurring, stereotyped signals. How do receivers optimally distinguish between frequently recurring signals and novel ones? Cortical auditory systems are known to be pre-attentively sensitive to short-term delivery statistics of artificial stimuli, but it is unknown if this phenomenon extends to the level of behaviorally relevant delivery patterns, such as those used during communication. We recorded and analyzed complete auditory scenes of spontaneously communicating zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) pairs over a week-long period, and show that they can produce tens of thousands of short-range contact calls per day. Individual calls recur at time scales (median interval 1.5 s) matching those at which mammalian sensory systems are sensitive to recent stimulus history. Next, we presented to anesthetized birds sequences of frequently recurring calls interspersed with rare ones, and recorded, in parallel, action and local field potential responses in the medio-caudal auditory forebrain at 32 unique sites. Variation in call recurrence rate over natural ranges leads to widespread and significant modulation in strength of neural responses. Such modulation is highly call-...Continue Reading


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