Birds and humans look different, sound different and evolved completely different organs for voice production. But now new research published in Nature Communications reveals that humans and birds use the exact same physical mechanism to make their vocal cords move and thus produce sound.
“Science has known for over 60 years that this mechanism – called the myoelastic-aerodynamic theory, or in short the MEAD mechanism- drives speech and singing in humans. We have now shown that birds use the exact same mechanism to make vocalizations. MEAD might even turn out to be a widespread mechanism in all land-dwelling vertebrates”, says lead author of the paper, Associate Professor Dr. Coen Elemans, Department of Biology, University of Southern Denmark.
The find may or may not “turn out to be a widespread mechanism in all land-dwelling vertebrates.” If it doesn’t, that points out a problem with the icon of common descent, when it comes to understanding evolution. Not the first time, for sure.
According to Elemans the new discovery not only sheds new light on the sophisticated vocal talents of song birds. The discovery is also interesting and useful because it can be paired with the knowledge about another interesting vocal mechanism shared by some birds and humans: The neural mechanisms underlying vocal learning. Both songbirds and humans are not born with the ability to speak or sing, but must learn their language or song by listening to others, a process called vocal imitation learning or simply vocal learning. More.
There may be a relationship between species that depend on vocal learning and those that feature this mechanism. Happy hunting!
Life forms can have the same characteristics without common descent being an obvious explanation. It can be an obvious explanation if the relationship is close enough (tigers, lions, leopards). But not if it comes down to “But they’re both vertebrates!” That’s when we might better look at convergent evolution: Heading toward the same goals rather than descent from a common ancestor. It suggests a different picture of evolution.
See Evolution appears to converge on goals—but in Darwinian terms, is that possible?
Imprinting (birds that learn who to trust by vocal learning):
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