Associations Between Environmental Resources and the "Wanting" and "Liking" of Male Song in Female Songbirds

Integr Comp Biol. 2017 Oct 1;57(4):835-845. doi: 10.1093/icb/icx117.


Reproductive success requires animals to adjust social and sexual behaviors in response to changes in environmental resources. In many species, males produce courtship signals to attract females; however, not all females are attracted by these signals. One possible explanation for this is that environmental resources alter neural mechanisms underlying motivation and reward in females so that male courtship is attractive when conditions are most favorable for an individual to breed. Here, we first introduce resource-dependent breeding behaviors of female songbirds. We then review studies that show associations between neural systems underlying motivation and reward, female responses to male courtship stimuli, and environmental resources necessary for breeding success (e.g., in female starlings, a nest cavity). Overall, we review evidence supporting the working hypotheses that (1) dopamine underlies sexually-motivated female responses to male courtship stimuli (i.e., song), (2) opioids underlie reward induced in females by hearing male courtship song, and (3) these systems are possibly modified by resources such that male courtship song is only attractive and rewarding to females with access to limited environmental resources essential for breeding success.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception*
  • Female
  • Motivation*
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena*
  • Nesting Behavior*
  • Reward*
  • Songbirds / physiology*