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Universal mechanisms of sound production and control in birds and mammals

Elemans, CPH and Rasmussen, JH and Herbst, CT and Düring, DN and Zollinger, Sue Anne and Brumm, H and Srivastava, K and Svane, N and Ding, M and Larsen, ON and Sober, SJ and Švec, JG (2015) Universal mechanisms of sound production and control in birds and mammals. Nature Communications, 6.


Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

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As animals vocalize, their vocal organ transforms motor commands into vocalizations for social communication. In birds, the physical mechanisms by which vocalizations are produced and controlled remain unresolved because of the extreme difficulty in obtaining in vivo measurements. Here, we introduce an ex vivo preparation of the avian vocal organ that allows simultaneous high-speed imaging, muscle stimulation and kinematic and acoustic analyses to reveal the mechanisms of vocal production in birds across a wide range of taxa. Remarkably, we show that all species tested employ the myoelastic-aerodynamic (MEAD) mechanism, the same mechanism used to produce human speech. Furthermore, we show substantial redundancy in the control of key vocal parameters ex vivo, suggesting that in vivo vocalizations may also not be specified by unique motor commands. We propose that such motor redundancy can aid vocal learning and is common to MEAD sound production across birds and mammals, including humans.

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