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Memory Does Not Constrain Individual Recognition in a Bird With Song Repertoires

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We tested the hypothesis that memory or perceptual limitations imposed by song repertoires contrain the ability of song birds to recognize their neighbours by song. Using operant conditioning procedures, we trained male song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) (median repertoire size = 8) to discriminate between two artificial song sparrow repertoires of 32 songs each (64 songs total). Both song sparrows learned to discriminate concurrently between all 32 song pairs. The birds learned later songs as quickly as they learned earlier songs. These results suggest that song sparrows are capable of memorizing the full song repertoire of their neighbours under natural conditions. In a second experiment we found that song sparrows readily generalize from one exemplar of a song type to other variations of that song type. We conclude that the evolution of song repertoires of song sparrows have neither constrained nor been constrained by individual recognition of neighbours by song.

Affiliations: 1: (Animal Behavior Program, Guthrie Hall, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA


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