Bird brains suggesting evolution of vocal learning

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Washington, Mar 16 (UNI) Birds with the ability to learn songs use similar brain structures to sing their tunes, researchers says.

In all three groups of birds with vocal learning abilities -- songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds-- the brain structures for singing and learning to sing are embedded in areas controlling movement, stated the Neurobiologists from the Duke University Medical Center.

It was also found that areas in charge of movement share many functional similarities with the brain areas for singing, suggesting that vocal learning evolved out of motor control.

The findings might also help solve the riddle as why humans talk with hands and voice, but chimps could talk only with their hands.

''In its most specialised way, spoken language is the ability to control the learned movements of our larynx. It's possible that human language pathways have also evolved in ways similar to these birds,'' Science Daily quoted senior author Erich Jarvis as saying.

''When we use this behavioral molecular mapping approach, we get gene expression patterns in the brain that light up like MRI images,'' stated Mr Jarvis.

The study is the first to map the parts of the forebrain that control movement in birds. Its the largest part of the brain, and includes the pathways for thought, learning and perception.

While all birds vocalise, for most of them these sounds are genetically hardwired. Only songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds have the ability to learn songs. This type of vocal learning is similar to the way that humans learn to speak, Mr Jarvis said.

''The results from birds were consistent with the hypothesis that spoken language was preceded by gestural language, or communication based on movements,'' added Mr Jarvis.


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