Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Scientists Find A Common Link Of Bird Flocks, Breast Milk And Trust

Date:
August 17, 2009
Source:
Indiana University
Summary:
What do flocks of birds have in common with trust, monogamy, and even breast milk? According to a new report in the journal Science, they are regulated by virtually identical neurochemicals in the brain, known as oxytocin in mammals and mesotocin in birds.

Zebra finches in congress.
Credit: Photo copyright Graeme S. Chapman; Courtesy of Indiana University

What do flocks of birds have in common with trust, monogamy, and even breast milk? According to a new report in the journal Science, they are regulated by virtually identical neurochemicals in the brain, known as oxytocin in mammals and mesotocin in birds.

Related Articles


Neurobiologists at Indiana University showed that if the actions of mesotocin are blocked in the brains of zebra finches, a highly social songbird, the birds shift their social preferences. They spend significantly less time with familiar individuals and more time with unfamiliar individuals. The birds also become less social, preferring to spend less time with a large group of same-sex birds and more time with a smaller group. Conversely, if birds are administered mesotocin instead of the blocker, the finches become more social and prefer familiar partners.

Perhaps most striking is the fact that none of the treatments affect males -- only females.

According to James Goodson, lead author on the study, the sex differences in birds provide important clues to the evolutionary history of oxytocin functions in humans and other mammals. "Oxytocin is an evolutionarily descendant of mesotocin and has long been associated with female reproductive functions -- things such as pair bonding with males, giving birth, providing maternal care and ejecting milk for infants," said Goodson.

Goodson and colleagues have found hints of similar processes in fish, and he speculates that oxytocin-like neuropeptides have played special roles in female affiliation ever since the peptides first evolved. That was sometime around 450 million years ago, about the same time that jaws evolved.

"The ancient properties of this system appear to be retained in all major vertebrate groups, and date back to our common ancestor with sharks," says co-author Marcy Kingsbury, associate scientist at IU Bloomington.

But if all vertebrates possess similar neuropeptide circuits, why don't they all live in big groups -- flocks, schools or herds? A possible answer to that question is provided in the second part of the Science study. The authors speculated that the behavioral actions of mesotocin may differ across species depending upon the distribution of "receptors" for the chemical in the brain -- that is, places where mesotocin can attach to brain cells and alter their activity.

Using a radioactive compound that attaches to oxytocin-like receptors, the authors mapped the distribution of receptors in three finch species that form flocks and two species that are territorial and highly aggressive. What they found was that the flocking species had many more receptors in a part of the brain known as the lateral septum. And when they blocked those receptors in female zebra finches, the birds became less social.

According to Goodson, these findings suggest that it is actually the concentration and location of receptors that determines whether an individual prefers spending time in large groups. Natural selection could act to increase the number of receptors expressed by certain lateral septum neurons, or by altering the regions where receptor genes are expressed, depending on whether female sociality is favored or not among the individuals of a species.

If Goodson's discovery holds true for other birds and even mammals, the concentration of receptors for mesotocin (and oxytocin) in the lateral septum could accurately predict whether an individual is naturally gregarious.

"The lateral septum is structurally very similar in reptiles, birds and mammals," Goodson said. "To our knowledge, it plays an important role in the social and reproductive behaviors of all land vertebrates."

What might be next for Goodson's research group?

"We still don't understand why mesotocin and oxytocin are so potent in females, but not always in males," Goodson said. "And we also don't fully understand how the lateral septum functions to influence sociality." But he is convinced that his group's ongoing studies of songbirds will soon provide the answers.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Indiana University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Indiana University. "Scientists Find A Common Link Of Bird Flocks, Breast Milk And Trust." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 August 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090813142144.htm>.
Indiana University. (2009, August 17). Scientists Find A Common Link Of Bird Flocks, Breast Milk And Trust. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090813142144.htm
Indiana University. "Scientists Find A Common Link Of Bird Flocks, Breast Milk And Trust." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090813142144.htm (accessed November 23, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Ebola-Hit Sierra Leone's Late Cocoa Leaves Bitter Taste

Ebola-Hit Sierra Leone's Late Cocoa Leaves Bitter Taste

AFP (Nov. 23, 2014) The arable district of Kenema in Sierra Leone -- at the centre of the Ebola outbreak in May -- has been under quarantine for three months as the cocoa harvest comes in. Duration: 01:32 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Anglerfish Rarely Seen In Its Habitat Will Haunt You

Anglerfish Rarely Seen In Its Habitat Will Haunt You

Newsy (Nov. 22, 2014) For the first time Monterey Bay Aquarium recorded a video of the elusive, creepy and rarely seen anglerfish. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Birds Around the World Take Flight

Birds Around the World Take Flight

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Nov. 22, 2014) An imperial eagle equipped with a camera spreads its wings over London. It's just one of the many birds making headlines in this week's "animal roundup". Jillian Kitchener reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins