• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Rested Minstrel

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth's Jennifer Chu reports on songbirds that sing better with a little sleep.


CURWOOD: Just ahead: A lawsuit to force the Bush administration to consider the effects of climate change when it hands out foreign aid comes closer to its day in court. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Jennifer Chu.

CHU: You've heard the saying: "practice makes perfect." But a lesson from the animal kingdom suggests sleep could be the real secret to success.

A team of behavioral neuroscientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island looked at how sleep affects song learning in zebra finches. Twelve young male finches learned to imitate recorded adult bird songs over several months. Then, researchers compared the birds' song-learning ability after various cycles of sleep – a regular 12 hours of night sleep, versus two to three hours of induced afternoon naps.

Scientists found that in both cases, birds displayed similar learning curves. That is, each time the finches woke up, they were dramatically worse singers than before they fell asleep. But after an intense round of rehearsals, the birds showed marked improvement from the day before. One explanation could be that finches use the time right after waking to experiment with different vocal patterns. A little shut-eye ultimately helps them retrieve what they learned the day before.

Scientists hypothesize that sleep is more than just a dormant phase – and that bird brains may display similar nerve patterns while asleep, as they do when awake – sort of an extension of learning. In the future, researchers plan to look at these same sleep effects in human infants.

That's this week's Note on Emerging Science, I'm Jennifer Chu.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

ANNOUNCER: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations and: The Argosy Foundation Contemporary Music Fund, supporting the creation, performance and recording of new music; The Kresge Foundation, building the capacity of nonprofit organizations through challenge grants since 1924. On the web at k-r-e-s-g-e dot org; The Annenberg Fund for excellence in communications and education; and, The W-K Kellogg Foundation. ‘From Vision to Innovative Impact: 75 Years of Philanthropy'; This is NPR--National Public Radio.

[MUSIC: Either/Orchestra "Pas de trois" the brunt (Accurate Records, 1994)]



Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth