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Zebra finches program offspring for a hotter world

Kate Buchanan and Mylene Mariette have studied incubation calling by the iconic Australian song bird, the zebra finch. Calls can be heard by the embryo in the last 5 days before hatching. Microphones placed in the nest revealed a special call only made when the temperature was 26 degrees or higher. Mylene Mariette devised an experiment where eggs were placed in an artificial incubator, with parents absent. Some eggs heard recordings of the special call. Other eggs were deprived of the special call. Those chicks which heard the special calls showed clear differences in their vocalisation when they beg.  They also displayed different growth rates. They gained less weight. This showed a clear pre natal response to stimuli. This is the first time incubation calling has been shown to alter the growth and development of a bird. In addition, when these birds bred, they chose warmer places.

Read or listen to the full story at ABC Radio's Science Show.

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