ZENK expression in the auditory pathway of black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) as a function of D note number and duty cycle ofchick-a-deecalls

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Black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) use their namesake chick-a-dee call for multiple functions, altering the features of the call depending on context. For example, duty cycle (the proportion of time filled by vocalizations) and fine structure traits (e.g., number of D notes) can encode contextual factors, such as predator size and food quality. Wilson and Mennill (2011) found that chickadees show stronger behavioral responses to playback of chick-a-dee calls with higher duty cycles, but not to the number of D notes. That is, independent of the number of D notes in a call, but dependent on the overall proportion of time filled with vocalization, birds responded more to higher duty cycle playback compared to lower duty cycle playback. Here we presented chickadees with chick-a-dee calls that contained either two D (referred to hereafter as 2 D) notes with a low duty cycle, 2 D notes with a high duty cycle, 10 D notes with a high duty cycle, or 2 D notes with a high duty cycle but played in reverse (a non-signaling control). We then measured ZENK expression in the auditory nuclei where perceptual discrimination is thought to occur. Based on the behavioral results of Wilson and Mennill, 2011, we predicted we would observe the highest ZENK expression in response to forward-playing calls with high duty cycles; we predicted we would observe no significant difference in ZENK expression between forward-playing high duty cycle playbacks (2 D or 10 D). We found no significant difference between forward-playing 2 D and 10 D high duty cycle playbacks. However, contrary to our predictions, we did not find any effects of altering the duty cycle or note number presented.HighlightsBlack-capped chickadees were exposed to chick-a-dee call stimuli with either high duty cycles or low duty cycles and ZENK immediate early gene expression (IEG) was assessed.ZENK IEG expression did not differ significantly between groups.Our result of ZENK expression as a function of duty cycle is inconsistent with previous behavioral data.The effect of chick-a-dee call duty cycle on ZENK expression was assessed in black-capped chickadees.

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