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Sexual Imprinting and Song Learning; Two of One Kind?

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image of Netherlands Journal of Zoology
For more content, see Archives Néerlandaises de Zoologie (Vol 1-17) and Animal Biology (Vol 53 and onwards).

Imprinting and song learning in birds are usually categorized under the same heading as 'exposure', 'template' or 'programmed' learning. These terms point to several similarities between the processes, but exactly how similar they are and whether the similarity implies a direct causal linkage is not clear. We examine these issues in the present paper, concentrating in particular on studies on the zebra finch, the species of which there is best knowledge of both processes. An update of earlier overviews on the taxonomic distribution of sexual imprinting shows that it is much wider spread than assumed previously and probably present in all species showing song learning. In contrast to earlier statements, there is no indication that imprinting in the zebra finch precedes (and in this way guides) song learning. Both processes show a similar flexibility in their timing, depending on the experimental procedures. Several experiments suggest that young males use their mother as a model for their sexual preference, while developing an aversion for their father's appearance. This aversion does not hamper them in copying their father's song. Even more, there is some evidence to suggest that a stronger preference for the mother's appearance is linked with better song learning from the father. We suggest some causal explanations for this 'antagonistic' relationship.

Affiliations: 1: Zoological Laboratory, University of Groningen, The Netherlands, Department of Organismal Zoology, Leiden University, P.O. Box 9516, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands; 2: Zoological Laboratory, University of Groningen, The Netherlands; 3: School of Biological and Medical Sciences, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland, UK


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