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Women researchers shook up the world of bird song

For a long time, bird song was considered as a typical male trait. But over the last twenty years, research has shown that a lot of female songbirds sing as well. Female scientists turned out to be the key factor in these findings, amongst others from the Institute of Biology Leiden.

Female bird song is widespread in songbirds, although for a long time, bird song was considered to be an exclusive male bird trait. According to the authors of a publication in Animal Behaviour, the paradigm shift that female birds sing as well was driven in particular by female researchers. One of the authors is Karan Odom, guest researcher at the Institute of Biology Leiden (IBL). Odom and co-authors use the case study of female bird song as a plea for more diversity in researchers’ backgrounds and identities to drive scientific progress. The authors suggest that ‘more diverse groups of researchers may ask a broader range of questions, utilize more varied methods and tackle problems from a wider range of perspectives.’   

Karan Odom works at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University, and she is a postdoctoral guest researcher at the IBL. At the IBL, Odom studies the evolution of male and female bird song, together with assistant professor Katharina Riebel. Riebel is one of the female scientists whose work on female bird song is referenced in the publication.

Read the article the authors wrote about their publication on The Conversation.

Publication: Haines, C., Rose, E., Odom, K. and Omland, K. (2020). The Role Of Diversity In Science: A Case Study Of Women Advancing Female Birdsong Research. Animal Behaviour 168: 19-24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2020.07.021 

Header image: singing great tit female (Parus major)

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