In songbirds, sensory and social learning processes in juveniles contribute to variation in male song and female preferences. The developmental stress hypothesis proposes that suboptimal early development affects the costly brain structures involved in male song learning and, as a consequence, song quality. As an extension of this hypothesis we tested in this study whether developmental conditions also modulate female song preference acquisition. We tested song preferences in adult female zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata, originating from a brood size manipulation experiment that had induced differences in mass, condition, immune response and levels of plasma testosterone at the early nestling stage. During the song-learning phase, juvenile birds were housed in small mixed-treatment groups with unrelated adult male song tutors. Adult females' song preferences were tested in an operant set-up where females could trigger different song playbacks by pecking different response keys. When females could choose between their own and an unfamiliar tutor's song they preferred their tutors' songs independent of experimental brood size. However, when females chose between two unfamiliar songs there was a significant effect of experimental brood size on preference strength: females from small broods showed significantly stronger preferences than those from medium and large broods. Hence, both females' rearing environment and sensory learning processes appear to contribute to variation in the direction and strength of female preference for male mating signals.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Journal publication date2009

ID: 54510