Meeting Abstract

S6-9  Friday, Jan. 6 14:00 - 14:30  Before songbirds are senders, they are receivers RODRIGUEZ-SALTOS, CA; Emory University

Receivers are motivated to approach courtship signals; in other words, these signals have incentive salience to the receivers. Though the concept of a receiver is commonly associated in the literature with that of a mate seeker, young songbirds that are learning to sing by imitating conspecifics are also receivers. To these juveniles, the songs from tutors, that is, from birds that are being imitated, have incentive salience. The mechanisms underlying ascription of incentive salience to tutor song are poorly understood. Here, I review studies on tutor choice and discuss possible mechanisms by which tutor song acquires incentive salience. In at least some species, juveniles imitate individuals with which they have a strong social bond, such as the father. Such cases suggest that social reward plays a role in ascribing incentive salience to song. In addition, experiments using birds reared in isolation from conspecific song have shown that juveniles imitate songs that have acoustic features that are typically found in conspecific song. Those studies suggest that such features are attractive to juveniles regardless of their social experience. The relative contributions of social reward and species-typical acoustic features to the incentive salience of a song can be determined using methods such as operant conditioning. For example, juvenile songbirds can be given control over the playback of songs that differ in a given attribute, such as acoustic similarity to the song of the father. The juveniles will more frequently elicit playback of the songs that are most attractive to them. Investigating the mechanisms that contribute to the incentive salience of tutor song will broaden our understanding of mate choice in songbirds, because song preferences in learners may ultimately determine what will be sung to potential mates.