Research ArticleNEUROSCIENCE

High-capacity auditory memory for vocal communication in a social songbird

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Science Advances  13 Nov 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 46, eabe0440
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abe0440

Abstract

Effective vocal communication often requires the listener to recognize the identity of a vocalizer, and this recognition is dependent on the listener’s ability to form auditory memories. We tested the memory capacity of a social songbird, the zebra finch, for vocalizer identities using conditioning experiments and found that male and female zebra finches can remember a large number of vocalizers (mean, 42) based solely on the individual signatures found in their songs and distance calls. These memories were formed within a few trials, were generalized to previously unheard renditions, and were maintained for up to a month. A fast and high-capacity auditory memory for vocalizer identity has not been demonstrated previously in any nonhuman animals and is an important component of vocal communication in social species.

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