Who's your momma?: the science behind imprinting

on Thursday, April 28, 2011

   Because I never took an ethology course, I wanted to do a presentation on imprinting. I have an interest in animal behavior, I just never had a chance to take the class. As a kid, I watched movies like Fly Away Home and Fox in the Hound and wondered if I could ever get a wild animal to follow me around (especially a fox). That didn't work out obviously, maybe because I was never in the right place at the right time, or maybe i was focusing on the wrong species.

I would have started my presentation with the history of ethology and imprinting studies. Imprinting is defined by brittanica online as a form of learning in which a young animal fixes its attention the first object it sees, hears or comes in contact with after hatching. This is mostly observed in birds, but hardly ever noted in mammals. Imprinting has been extensively studied in the lab, but in the wild the imprinted object is almost always the hatchlings mother.  Imprinting studies were first done in the lab by Konrad Lorenz (an Austrian naturalist, 1903-1989). He found that chicks don't always follow their mother upon hatching, but they will follow and bond with the first thing they come in contact with (Cardoso and Sabbitini).  

 Next, I think it is important to recognize why imprinting is important to the species. Imprinting is important for birds to learn to recognize others of their species (Terning et al, 2008). This was found by cross-fostering blue tits, Cyanistes caeruleus, with great tits, Parus major. They found that species recognition is irreversible once established in youth ( Terning et al, 2008).  Recognizing those of the same species is important for sexual isolation (Burley, 2006).

In my presentation, I would have discussed thoroughly the proposed mechanisms behind imprinting associations and where those associations are stored in the brain: ie the Hyperstriatum ventrale, Dorso ventricular ridge, and the wust.  (Cardoso and Sabbitini).  Studying imprinting is important for understanding different species behavior that contributes to recognition, selectivity, and survival (Cardoso and Sabbitini). 


  Obviously, in a presentation I would have included a lot more detail about Imprinting studies, mechanisms, and in different species.  Most of the research articles I found were outdated, but there are more genomic studies going on currently.  I would be interested in understanding if imprinting is present in mammals, and understanding the difference in imprinting mechanisms in different species.
Burley, N. T. (2006). AN EYE FOR DETAIL: SELECTIVE SEXUAL IMPRINTING IN ZEBRA FINCHES. Evolution, 60(5), 1076-1085.

Cardoso, SH and Sabbatini, RME. Learning who is your mother: The behavior of imprinting. Brain & Mind Magazine

Hansen, B. T., Johannessen, L. E., , & Slagsvold, T. (2008). Imprinted species recognition lasts for life in free-living great tits and blue tits. Animal Behaviour, 75(3), 921-927.


kmanocc said...

Love the title!!

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