Universal mechanisms of sound production and control in birds and mammals

Universal mechanisms of sound production and control in birds and mammals

C.P.H Elemans, J.H. Rasmussen, C.T. Herbst, D.N. Düring, S.A. Zollinger, H. Brumm, K. Srivastava, N. Svane, M. Ding, O.N. Larsen, S.J. Sober & J.G. Švec

Nature Communications 6, Article number: 8978 doi:10.1038/ncomms9978
Received 24 March 2015 Accepted 22 October 2015 Published 27 November 2015

As animals vocalize, their vocal organ transforms motor commands into vocalizations for social communication. In birds, the physical mechanisms by which vocalizations are produced and controlled remain unresolved because of the extreme difficulty in obtaining in vivo measurements. Here, we introduce an ex vivo preparation of the avian vocal organ that allows simultaneous high-speed imaging, muscle stimulation and kinematic and acoustic analyses to reveal the mechanisms of vocal production in birds across a wide range of taxa. Remarkably, we show that all species tested employ the myoelastic-aerodynamic (MEAD) mechanism, the same mechanism used to produce human speech. Furthermore, we show substantial redundancy in the control of key vocal parameters ex vivo, suggesting that in vivo vocalizations may also not be specified by unique motor commands. We propose that such motor redundancy can aid vocal learning and is common to MEAD sound production across birds and mammals, including humans.

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