Diana Rodrigues

PhD Student
Work phone:
+41 44 635 3051
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I am currently a PhD Student at INI.
I did my BSc in Biology and MSc in Molecular Cell Biology, at the University of Coimbra, Portugal.

My interests lie in understanding the link between behavioral and neural mechanisms that underlie animal learning. Specifically, my project "Tutor preference in a juvenile songbird" aims to examine, how vocal interactions between pupils and tutors affect the imitation learning process. I want to identify behavioral strategies deployed by juveniles to solve the ecologically relevant task of learning a song from a tutor, and link them to possible underlying neural correlates.

Interactive communication systems for songbirds

In the context of communication, signalling facilitates the exchange of information between individuals (Stegmann, 2013)). A signal produced by an individual has the power to induce a response in a receiver that, in turn, can alter the behavior of the of the signalling individual (McGregor et al 1992; King, 2015).Thus, vocal and behavioural exchanges between animals are definitely interactive (King, 2015). Video and audio playback are potent techniques to study of communication. Methods like interactive playback and virtual environments are important tools social interaction and social influences in developmental learning (King,2015; Ljubicic et al 2016).

Video stimuli has been show to elicit natural behaviours in some animals: chimpanzees and budgerigars yawn more in response to videos of conspecifics yawning than to control videos in which conspecifics were engaged in other behaviours (Campbell and de Waal, 2011; Gallup et al., 2015); gloomy octopus readily approached and touched the video screen when presented with a crab video, and reduced their activity, a natural response for this solitary species, in response to a video of a conspecific (Pronk et al., 2010); videos of ‘audience’ hens (Gallus domesticus) potentiate alarm calls produced in the presence of a predator model (Evans and Marler, 1991) and male Jacky dragons (Amphibolurus muricatus) produce aggressive displays in response to videos of conspecific males (Ord et al., 2002); Budgerigars copy the actions of a live or video demonstrators in a two- action test (Heyes and Saggerson, 2002; Mottley and Heyes, 2003) and Burmese red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus spadecius) copy foraging choices of live and video demonstrators (McQuoid and Galef, 1993, 1992); In some cases there is no qualitative difference in the response to live versus video stimuli (e.g. Evans and Marler, 1991; McQuoid and Galef, 1993; Ord et al., 2002; Rieucau and Giraldeau, 2009), however, in other cases an attenuated (e.g. Ikebuchi and Okanoya, 1999) or enhanced response to video stimuli was reported (Swaddle et al., 2006).

More specifically in songbirds, Male zebra (Taeniopygia guttata) and Bengalese finches (Lonchura striata) sing directed song to video presentations of female conspecifics (Ikebuchi and Okanoya, 1999) and female zebra finches will perform courtship display to videos of male conspecifics (Swaddle et al., 2006). Zebra finches also learn social information about foraging from video demonstrators. Live streaming has the same effect on observers’ behaviour as live demonstration (Guillette and Healy, 2017). Even looking at developmental learning, juvenile zebra finches learn much better from situations were they can interact with visually and auditory with an adult male, than juveniles that are only exposed to passive playback (Déregnaucourt et al, 2013Chen et al, 2016).

Playback experiments have helped further our understanding of the wonderful world of animal communication. They have provided fundamental insights into animal behaviour and the function of communicative signals in numerous taxa. As important as these experiments are, however, there is strong evidence to suggest that the information conveyed in a signal may only have value when presented interactively. By their very nature, signalling exchanges are interactive and therefore, an interactive experimental designs are powerful for examining the function of such exchanges. (King, 2015)

In the last years, our laboratory developed a custom digital telecommunication system that makes possible visual and auditory contact between birds. Our digital communication setup allows us to control the audio and visual channels independently. For example, we can manipulate all vocal interactions between birds to identify the important factors that influence vocal learning. In unpublished data from our lab, we have observed that adult zebra finches (males and females), recognise conspecifics in this setup and engage in vocal interaction with them (figure 1). We have also observed that juveniles can interact with adult males and learn their songs, using this setup.




  • Homare Yamahachi, Anja T. Zai, Ryosuke O. Tachibana, Anna E. Stepien, Diana I. Rodrigues, Sophie Cavé-Lopez, Gagan Narula, Juneseung Lee, Ziqiang Huang, Heiko Hörster, Daniel Düring, Richard H. R. Hahnloser Welfare of zebra finches used in research, bioRxiv, 2017 pdf