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Anterior forebrain pathway in parrots is necessary for producing learned vocalizations with individual signatures

Cornell Affiliated Author(s)


Z. Zhao
H.K. Teoh
J. Carpenter
F. Nemon
B. Kardon
I. Cohen
J.H. Goldberg


Parrots have enormous vocal imitation capacities and produce individually unique vocal signatures. Like songbirds, parrots have a nucleated neural song system with distinct anterior (AFP) and posterior forebrain pathways (PFP). To test if song systems of parrots and songbirds, which diverged over 50 million years ago, have a similar functional organization, we first established a neuroscience-compatible call-and-response behavioral paradigm to elicit learned contact calls in budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus). Using variational autoencoder-based machine learning methods, we show that contact calls within affiliated groups converge but that individuals maintain unique acoustic features, or vocal signatures, even after call convergence. Next, we transiently inactivated the outputs of AFP to test if learned vocalizations can be produced by the PFP alone. As in songbirds, AFP inactivation had an immediate effect on vocalizations, consistent with a premotor role. But in contrast to songbirds, where the isolated PFP is sufficient to produce stereotyped and acoustically normal vocalizations, isolation of the budgerigar PFP caused a degradation of call acoustic structure, stereotypy, and individual uniqueness. Thus, the contribution of AFP and the capacity of isolated PFP to produce learned vocalizations have diverged substantially between songbirds and parrots, likely driven by their distinct behavioral ecology and neural connectivity. © 2023 Elsevier Inc.

Date Published


Current Biology





Number of Pages


ISBN Number

09609822 (ISSN)




Alternate Journal

Curr. Biol.

Research Area

Group (Lab)

Itai Cohen Group

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