Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to the AAAS, Zebra Finches are helping their hatchlings respond to global warming, by singing to their eggs.
Video: Zebra finch call prepares their eggs for climate change
Scientists have long worried whether animals can respond to the planet’s changing climate. Now, a new study reports that at least one species of songbird—and likely many more—already knows how to prep its chicks for a warming world. They do so by emitting special calls to the embryos inside their eggs, which can hear and learn external sounds. This is the first time scientists have found animals using sound to affect the growth, development, behavior, and reproductive success of their offspring, and adds to a growing body of research revealing that birds can “doctor” their eggs.
“The study is novel, surprising, and fascinating, and is sure to lead to much more work on parent-embryo communication,” says Robert Magrath, a behavioral ecologist at the Australian National University in Canberra who was not involved in the study.
The idea that the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) parents were “talking to their eggs” occurred to Mylene Mariette, a behavioral ecologist at Deakin University in Waurn Ponds, Australia, while recording the birds’ sounds at an outdoor aviary. She noticed that sometimes when a parent was alone, it would make a rapid, high-pitched series of calls while sitting on the eggs. Mariette and her co-author, Katherine Buchanan, recorded the incubation calls of 61 female and 61 male finches inside the aviary. They found that parents of both sexes uttered these calls only during the end of the incubation period and when the maximum daily temperature rose above 26°C (78.8°F).
The following is the study referenced by the press release;
Prenatal acoustic communication programs offspring for high posthatching temperatures in a songbird
In many species, embryos can perceive and learn external sounds. Yet, the possibility that parents may use these embryonic capacities to alter their offspring’s developmental trajectories has not been considered. Here, we demonstrate that zebra finch parents acoustically signal high ambient temperatures (above 26°C) to their embryos. We show that exposure of embryos to these acoustic cues alone adaptively alters subsequent nestling begging and growth in response to nest temperature and influences individuals’ reproductive success and thermal preferences as adults. These findings have implications for our understanding of maternal effects, phenotypic plasticity, developmental programming, and the adaptation of endothermic species to a warming world.
Read more (Paywalled): http://science.sciencemag.org/content/353/6301/812
Bird calls influencing the growth and behaviour of hatchlings is a fascinating discovery, if the result is repeatable.