Is the Capacity for Vocal Learning in Vertebrates Rooted in Fish Schooling Behavior?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The capacity to learn and reproduce vocal sounds has evolved in phylogenetically distant tetrapod lineages. Vocal learners in all these lineages express similar neural circuitry and genetic factors when perceiving, processing, and reproducing vocalization, suggesting that brain pathways for vocal learning evolved within strong constraints from a common ancestor, potentially fish. We hypothesize that the auditory-motor circuits and genes involved in entrainment have their origins in fish schooling behavior and respiratory-motor coupling. In this acoustic advantages hypothesis, aural costs and benefits played a key role in shaping a wide variety of traits, which could readily be exapted for entrainment and vocal learning, including social grouping, group movement, and respiratory-motor coupling. Specifically, incidental sounds of locomotion and respiration (ISLR) may have reinforced synchronization by communicating important spatial and temporal information between school-members and extending windows of silence to improve situational awareness. This process would be mutually reinforcing. Neurons in the telencephalon, which were initially involved in linking ISLR with forelimbs, could have switched functions to serve vocal machinery (e.g. mouth, beak, tongue, larynx, syrinx). While previous vocal learning hypotheses invoke transmission of neurons from visual tasks (gestures) to the auditory channel, this hypothesis involves the auditory channel from the onset. Acoustic benefits of locomotor-respiratory coordination in fish may have selected for genetic factors and brain circuitry capable of synchronizing respiratory and limb movements, predisposing tetrapod lines to synchronized movement, vocalization, and vocal learning. We discuss how the capacity to entrain is manifest in fish, amphibians, birds, and mammals, and propose predictions to test our acoustic advantages hypothesis.

Details

Authors
Organisations
External organisations
  • Örebro University Hospital
  • Örebro University
  • Brigham Young University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Evolutionary Biology

Keywords

  • Entrainment, Fish schooling, FoxP2, Incidental sound, Locomotion, Locomotor-respiratory coupling, Respiration, Synchronization, Vocal learning
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-373
JournalEvolutionary Biology
Volume45
Issue number4
Early online date2018 Jun 13
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Dec
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes