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Birdsong of Isolated Finches Reverts to Normal Over Several Generations

Researchers have shown that the abnormal song of isolated male zebra finches reverts to normal over several generations of one-on-one “tutor-pupil” pairings with a new generation of male finches (the pupils). Male finches typically learn their song from other male finches. In the experiments, the pupil finches imitated their tutors' songs, but changed certain characteristics. The alterations accumulated over generations. By the fourth generation, the original isolate’s song had evolved toward the wild-type song. “Culture appears to be encoded in the birds. It just needed a few generations to emerge," said the senior author of the study. He noted that the same pattern of evolution in the song occurred whether the subsequent generations of male birds were raised among female birds (who do not sing) and siblings in a colony setting, or just among isolate males one-on-one. The results were published in the May 3 online edition of Nature. [Press release] [Wired News story] [Science Daily story] [Nature abstract]