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Sexual equality in zebra finch song preference: evidence for a dissociation between song recognition and production learning.

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Abstract

Song in oscine birds is a culturally inherited mating signal and sexually dimorphic. From differences in song production learning, sex differences in song recognition learning have been inferred but rarely put to a stringent test. In zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata, females never sing and the species has one of the greatest neuroanatomical differences in song-related brain nuclei reported for songbirds. Preference tests with sibling groups for which exposure to song had been identical during the sensitive phase for song learning in males, revealed equally strong influence of the tutor's song (here the father) on males' and females' adult song preferences. Both sexes significantly preferred the father's over unfamiliar song when having free control over exposure to playbacks via an operant task. The sibling comparisons suggest that this preference developed independently of the song's absolute quality: variation between siblings was as great as between nests. The results show that early exposure has an equally strong influence on males' and females' song preferences despite the sexual asymmetry in song production learning. This suggests that the trajectory for song recognition learning is independent of the one for song production learning.

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