Species variation in the degree of sex differences in brain and behaviour related to birdsong: Adaptations and constraints

Gregory F. Ball

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The song-control system, a neural circuit that controls the learning and production of birdsong, provided the first example in vertebrates of prominent macro-morphological sex differences in the brain. Forebrain nuclei HVC, robust nucleus of the arcopallium (RA) and area X all exhibit prominent male-biased sex differences in volume in zebra finches and canaries. Subsequent studies compared species that exhibited different degrees of a sex difference in song behaviour and revealed an overall positive correlation between male biases in song behaviour and male biases in the volume of the song nuclei. However, several exceptions have been described in which male biases in HVC and RA are observed even though song behaviour is equal or even female-biased. Other phenotypic measures exhibit lability in both sexes. In the duetting plain-tailed wren (Pheugopedius euophrys), males and females have auditory cells in the song system that are tuned to the joint song the two sexes produce rather than just male or female components. These findings suggest that there may be constraints on the adaptive response of the song system to ecological conditions as assessed by nucleus volume but that other critical variables regulating song can respond so that each sex can modify its song behaviour as needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1688
StatePublished - Feb 19 2016


  • Canary
  • HVC
  • Sexual selection
  • Song-control system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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