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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 110(3)

The reproductive and stress physiology of Zebra Finches in context: integrating field and laboratory studies

Nicole Perfito

Max-Planck Institute for Ornithology, Vogelwarte Radolfzell, Schlossallee 1a, 78315 Radolfzell, Germany. Present address: University of California – Berkeley, 3060 Valley Life Sciences, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA. Email: nperfito@berkeley.edu
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The Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata) continues to be a useful animal model for the study of a diverse set of topics in biology, from questions of sexual selection to the mechanisms of behaviour. In this review, I consider two topics about which we have information from studies in the field and laboratory: reproductive and stress physiology. I discuss both, with special focus on placing each in the context of free-living Zebra Finches in their natural habitat. Based on the careful and long-term studies conducted by Richard Zann and his colleagues, we can reject the hypothesis that Zebra Finches remain in a continuous, near-ready reproductive state in the whole of their range, and should avoid the temptation to assume that all birds in captive colonies are in a breeding state once they have reached maturity. Many life-history characteristics of Zebra Finches differ from those of other more commonly studied northern temperate passerine species. As a result, they offer an excellent opportunity to study the mechanistic underpinnings of flexibility in the timing of reproduction and physiological responses to perturbations in the environment, both during development and as adults.

The primary aim of this book is to integrate these diverse laboratory studies and place them in the context of the biology of the animals in the wild so a more complete picture of the adaptations and life history of the species will emerge. From this I hope new understandings arise that can act as catalysts for better research and lead, on the one hand, to more biologically relevant questions by laboratory workers, and on the other, to new insights into the range of adaptations field workers can investigate. Richard Zann, The Zebra Finch (1996: Preface).

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