Prenatal environment affects embryonic response to song

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    13 Citations (Scopus)


    Early environmental enrichment improves postnatal cognition in animals and humans. Here, we examined the effects of the prenatal acoustic environment (parental song rate) on prenatal attention in superb fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus) embryos, the only songbird species with evidence of prenatal discrimination of maternal calls and in ovo call learning. Because both adults also sing throughout the incubation phase, we broadcast songs to embryos and measured their heart rate response in relation to parental song rate and tutor identity (familiarity, sex). Embryos from acoustically active families (high parental song rate) had the strongest response to songs. Embryos responded (i) strongest to male songs irrespective of familiarity with the singer, and (ii) strongest if their father had a high song rate during incubation. This is the first evidence for a prenatal physiological response to particular songs (potential tutors) in the egg, in relation to the prenatal acoustic environment, and before the sensitive period for song learning.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number20170302
    Pages (from-to)Art: 20170302
    JournalBiology Letters
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


    • Female song
    • Prenatal responsiveness
    • Song learning
    • Tutor selection


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