The caudomedial nidopallium (NCM) is a telencephalic auditory area that is selectively activated by conspecific vocalizations in zebra finches and canaries. We recently demonstrated that temporal and spectral dynamics of auditory tuning in NCM differ between these species . In order to determine whether these differences reflect recent experience, we exposed separate groups of each species and sex to different housing conditions. Adult birds were housed either in an aviary with conspecifics (NORM), with heterospecifics (canary subjects in a zebra finch aviary, and vice versa: (CROSS)), or in isolation (ISO) for 9 days prior to testing. We then recorded extracellular multi-unit electrophysiological responses to simple pure tone stimuli (250–5000 Hz) in awake birds from each group and analyzed auditory tuning width using methods from our earlier studies. Relative to NORM birds, tuning was narrower in CROSS birds, and wider in ISO birds. The trend was greater in canaries, especially females. The date of recording was also included as a covariate in ANCOVAs that analyzed a larger set of the canary data, including data from birds tested outside of the breeding season, and treated housing condition and sex as independent variables. These tests show that tuning width was narrower early in the year and broader later. This effect was most pronounced in CROSS males. The degree of the short-term neural plasticity described here differs across sexes and species, and may reflect differences in NCM’s anatomical and functional organization related to species differences in song characteristics, adult plasticity and/or social factors. More generally, NCM tuning is labile and may be modulated by recent experience to reflect the auditory processing required for behavioral adaptation to the current acoustic, social or seasonal context.
Terleph, T. A., Lu, K., & Vicario, D. S. (2008). Response properties of the auditory telencephalon in songbirds change with recent experience and season. PLoSONE 3(8), e2854. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002854
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