Vocal communication in breeding decisions by zebra finches in an unpredictable environment


Understanding how animals respond behaviourally and physiologically to climatic variability is key to predicting adaptations to climate change. Zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata, are an ideal model to determine adaptions to changing environments, as they are opportunistic breeders in Australia’s climatically unpredictable arid zone. Zebra finches are the best-studied avian model organism under laboratory conditions, yet decisions and signals used to time and optimize reproduction in nature are poorly understood. Here we will use a long-term monitored Australian field population to identify how birds signal to achieve physiological and behavioural synchrony for optimizing reproduction. While we consider all vocal signals including calls, we will specifically test hypotheses on the function of male song. Song here is unusual, as it has no territorial function and is delivered by mated males and thus is unlikely to be primarily a mating signal. Instead, we predict that song has primary social functions including the coordination of breeding - a strikingly different perspective from how song and breeding have been studied over many decades in this species under laboratory conditions. We will integrate field experiments with population-wide behavioural monitoring of breeding, male singing, and pair calling, along with climate data and physiological correlates of pair coordination. This unique field project will provide key advances in our understanding of signalling and behavioural decisions of animals breeding under ecologically challenging and unpredictable climatic conditions. It also will open new doors for understanding social functions of elaborate signals and for laboratory studies on behavioural mechanisms using ecologically refined conditions.


Project number


Main applicant

Prof. dr. M. Naguib

Affiliated with

Wageningen University & Research, Dierwetenschappen, Behavioural Ecology Group

Team members

Mr. H.L. Loning


01/06/2018 to 31/08/2021