Daily vocal exercise is necessary for peak performance singing in a songbird

Iris Adam*, Katharina Riebel, Per Stål, Neil Wood, Michael J. Previs, Coen P.H. Elemans*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Vocal signals, including human speech and birdsong, are produced by complicated, precisely coordinated body movements, whose execution is fitness-determining in resource competition and mate choice. While the acquisition and maintenance of motor skills generally requires practice to develop and maintain both motor circuitry and muscle performance, it is unknown whether vocal muscles, like limb muscles, exhibit exercise-induced plasticity. Here, we show that juvenile and adult zebra finches (Taeniopygia castanotis) require daily vocal exercise to first gain and subsequently maintain peak vocal muscle performance. Experimentally preventing male birds from singing alters both vocal muscle physiology and vocal performance within days. Furthermore, we find females prefer song of vocally exercised males in choice experiments. Vocal output thus contains information on recent exercise status, and acts as an honest indicator of past exercise investment in songbirds, and possibly in all vocalising vertebrates.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7787
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Animals
  • Female
  • Finches/physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Singing
  • Songbirds/physiology
  • Vocalization, Animal/physiology


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