Dr. Clementine VIGNAL

Associate Professor - Univ. J. Monnet

Personal page:     http://cvignal.googlepages.com

Université Jean Monnet
UMR 9197
rue Michelon, 42023 St Etienne


Research Interest

    Social relationships in animals rely on communication systems. Among the channels that could be used for communication (visual, chemical or mechanical signals), acoustic communication is prominent during social interactions for many bird species.

Songbirds produce two types of vocalizations: songs and calls. Songs are generally much more complex than calls. Indeed, songs are elaborate and highly structured vocal patterns rendered in syntactical order that result from imitation learning and dynamic sensory-motor feedback, whereas calls are often short monosyllabic notes. Songs are mainly delivered in the contexts of reproduction and intrasexual competition, whereas calls are evoked in a diversity of contexts such as social grouping, information sharing about resource location, aggressive interactions or alarm about predation.

Because songs represent strinkingly sophisticated communication signals, they have been attractive research subjects for decades. But as underlined by Peter Marler (2004), songs are part of the larger repertoire of sounds that birds use for social communication.  Every songbird species employ a set of calls beside the song, that with no doubt contribute to birds’ complex social behaviours. As the sophistication of the sociality of birds has begun to be acknowledged, bird calls are still begging to be studied in more details.

In this context, I'm interested in acoustic communication based on calls in songbirds, especially the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata).

Current Projects & Collaborations

1) Vocal recognition processes in the zebra finch's communication network.

By using both behavioural and neurobiological methods, this project is investigating how birds perform individual recognition based on calls in the zebra finch's social network (recognition between mates, between parents and nestlings, between parents and young...). This project is studying not only how vocal recognition is performed in the network but also how the network itself might influence acoustic communication, e.g. the so-called audience effect.

These phenomena are studied mainly in the lab using acoustic analysis, playback experiments, as well as brain immunocytochemistry, electrophysiology, optical tomography and fMRI.

This project has been funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR grant, "Birds' voices" project 2007-2010) and is done in collaboration with Nicolas Mathevon (head of our Research Group, see his website).

2) Acoustic communication and monogamy in the zebra finch

The zebra finch is a gregarious nomadic songbird of the semi-arid regions of Australia that forms monogamous pair bonds. Both partners contribute to nest building, incubation and chick rearing. Partners are literally inseparable except when one mate has to remain in the nest during incubation and chick brooding.
Thus, zebra finch mates behave as highly coordinated and collaborating partners. Pair coordination is built on intense vocal communication between mates and, as for other social interactions in this species, acoustic interactions represent the cornerstone of this real partnership.

This project is studying the acoustic basis of the monogamous pairbond in the zebra finch, both in the lab and in the field.

Part of this work is also performed in collaborations with:

-S. Griffith (Macquarie University,  Australia) = field work on wild zebra finches

-C. Soulage (INSERM U870 - INSA Lyon, France) = corticosterone assays

-H. Soula (INRIA - INSA Lyon) and M. Fernandez (PhD student) = dynamics of vocal interactions in pairs and groups

This project is funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR grant, "Acoustic partnership" project 2012-2015).

3) Acoustic communication and sex-roles equality in monogamous songbirds

The monogamous pair bond in birds represents a real partnership. Mates work as a team during chicks rearing and synchronize their activity. The monogamous pair bond in birds can thus be considered as an example of cooperative behaviour that relies on coordination between mates. Coordination and synchrony could be reached by communication between the partners. The study of acoustic communication in monogamous birds is thus of high relevance to the understanding of monogamy and more generally of cooperative behaviours.

This project aims at studying whether coordination in acoustic communication correlates with sex-role equality between mates during incubation and chick rearing by comparing a species with high level of equality between mates, the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), and a species with a female-biased work load, the great tit (Parus major).

This work is the core of the PhD work of Ingrid Boucaud.

4) Impact of noise on intra-pair acoustic communication in monogamous songbirds

To study how acoustic communication is involved in the coordination of activities of monogamous partners in birds, it is necessary to characterize how they adapt to ecological constraints.

This project aims at comparing the intra-pair communication of two bird species facing different levels of background noise. Zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) live in semi-arid zones of Australia, an unpredictable environment where windy conditions are highly variable on a hourly basis. Variable windy conditions are likely to constrain zebra finch intra-pair communication. The European dipper (Cinclus cinclus) inhabits the surroundings of fast moving upland rivers, and thus faces the constant wideband background noise of the river.

This work is done in collaboration with B. Doligez  (Univ. Lyon 1, CNRS) and is the core of the PhD work of Avelyne Villain.


      I'm currently in charge of the University courses that prepare to the French national exam to become High-school teacher => Classe de Préparation au Capes Sciences de la Vie et de la Terre UJM - IUFM de Lyon. I'm also teaching ethology and neuroethology to Master students, as well as physiology at undergrad level (licence).

Selected Publications

Boucaud ICA, Mariette MM, Villain AS, Vignal C, 2015. Vocal negotiation over parental care? Partners adjust their time spent incubating based on their acoustic communication at the nest. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, in press.

 Perez EC, Elie JE, Boucaud ICA, Crouchet T, Soulage CO, Soula HA, Theunissen FE, Vignal C, 2015. Physiological resonance between mates through calls as possible evidence of empathic processes in songbirds. Hormones and Behavior, in press.

 Perez EC*, Fernandez MSA*, Griffith SC, Vignal C, Soula HA, 2015. Impact of visual contact on vocal interaction dynamics of pair bonded birds. Animal Behaviour  107 :125-137.

Mariette MM, Cathaud C, Chambon R, Vignal C, 2013. Juvenile social experience affects pairing success at adulthood: congruence with the loser effect. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.280(1767):20131514.

Perez EC, Elie JE, Soulage CO, Soula HA, Mathevon N, Vignal C, 2012. The acoustic expression of stress in a songbird: Does corticosterone drive isolation-induced modifications of zebra finch calls? Hormones and Behavior 61, 573-581.

Elie JE, Mariette MM, Soula HA, Griffith SC, Mathevon N, Vignal C, 2010. Vocal communication at the nest between mates in wild zebra finches: a private vocal duet? Animal Behaviour 80:597-605

Any questions or remarks on our website, please contact the webmaster