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Title: Functional neurogenomic responses to acoustic threats, including a heterospecific referential alarm call and its referent, in the auditory forebrain of red-winged blackbirds

In animal communication, functionally referential alarm calls elicit the same behavioral responses as their referents, despite their typically distinct bioacoustic traits. Yet the auditory forebrain in at least one songbird species, the black-capped chickadeePoecile atricapillus, responds similarly to threat calls and their referent predatory owl calls, as assessed by immediate early gene responses in the secondary auditory forebrain nuclei. Whether and where in the brain such perceptual and cognitive equivalence is processed remains to be understood in most other avian systems. Here, we studied the functional neurogenomic (non-) equivalence of acoustic threat stimuli perception by the red-winged blackbirdAgelaius phoeniceusin response to the actual calls of the obligate brood parasitic brown-headed cowbirdMolothrus aterand the referential anti-parasitic alarm calls of the yellow warblerSetophaga petechia,upon which the blackbird is known to eavesdrop. Using RNA-sequencing from neural tissue in the auditory lobule (primary and secondary auditory nuclei combined), in contrast to previous findings, we found significant differences in the gene expression profiles of both an immediate early gene, ZENK (egr-1), and other song-system relevant gene-products in blackbirds responding to cowbird vs. warbler calls. In turn, direct cues of threats (including conspecific intruder calls and nest-predator calls) elicited higher ZENK and other differential gene expression patterns compared to harmless heterospecific calls. These patterns are consistent with a perceptual non-equivalence in the auditory forebrain of adult male red-winged blackbirds in response to referential calls and the calls of their referents.

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Nature Publishing Group
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Scientific Reports
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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