Differences in gene expression led to different bird songs between species.
The two closely-related bird species, zebra finches (left) and owl finches (right), and their hybrid offspring (center). (Wang H. et al., PLOS Biology, November 13, 2019)
Researchers have discovered the genetic mechanism that explains how birds sing different songs depending on their species. The team from Japan’s Hokkaido University and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology shared their findings in the journal PLOS Biology.
Birds acquire song by copying the vocalizations of other individuals, such as their parents, in the same way humans acquire language. Songs play an important role in mating interactions and territory defence within and between species.
For many years, scientists have thought that species-specific songs partly depend on differences in the structure and development of regions in the brain which influence behaviour. However, the genetic mechanism underlying these differences has remained elusive.
To investigate this, Wada and his colleagues studied zebra finches and owl finches, two closely related bird species with different songs, and their hybrid offspring. Specifically, they looked at differences in gene expression between the two species as well as the expression ratio from the zebra finch’s and the owl finch’s genomes (alleles) in the hybrid offspring. These allowed them to relate transcriptional regulatory divergence between the species with the production of species-specific songs.
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