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Thursday, 27 November 2014

On the existence and potential functions of low-amplitude vocalizations in North American birds. The Auk, Volume 132, Issue 1, Page 156-166, January 2015.

On the existence and potential functions of low-amplitude vocalizations in North American birds

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The Auk, Volume 132, Issue 1, Page 156-166, January 2015. 

Dustin G. Reichard 1,a* and Joseph F. Welklin 1,b

1 Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA
a Current address: Department of Evolution and Ecology, University of California, Davis, California, USA
b Current address: Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA
* Corresponding author: dgreichard@ucdavis.edu

ABSTRACT

Aggressive encounters between animals often involve significant amounts of signalling before or in lieu of physical fights. When, as is often the case, these apparent threat signals are neither inherently costly nor inherently indicative of fighting ability, we should ask whether they are in fact honest signals, i.e. do they predict that escalation is imminent? While signalling theories have indicated that such ‘conventional’ threat signals can honestly predict escalation, attempts to gather supporting empirical evidence have mostly failed. For example, recent studies in songbirds of song type matching (replying to an opponent's song with the same song type he has just sung) have failed to confirm that it predicts an eventual attack by the signaller. In the present study of song sparrows (Melospiza melodia), we tested the hypothesis that song type matching is an early threat signal in a hierarchical signalling system. We used an improved model-playback design that simulated an escalating intrusion onto the subject's territory: the simulated opponent first sang in hiding from the boundary before moving to the centre of the territory, where he revealed himself and continued to sing. We found that type matching beginning in the boundary phase and continuing into the escalation phase, or beginning immediately after the escalation, reliably predicted both subsequent escalated signalling (soft songs and wing waves) and subsequent attack on the model, supporting the hypothesis that type matching is a reliable early threat signal.

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