Bachelor and paired male rufous-and-white wrens use different singing strategies

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Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology





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To attract a breeding partner, males may behave differently when they are bachelors compared to when they are paired. Comparisons between groups of paired males versus groups of unpaired males in temperate-breeding animals have revealed such differences in signalling behaviour. Few studies, however, have explored how individual males alter their signalling behaviour with changes in pairing status, and very few investigations have explored paired versus unpaired male behaviour in tropical animals. During a 5-year study in Costa Rica, we analysed changes in the singing behaviour of male rufous-and-white wrens (Thryothorus rufalbus) when they were paired and when they were bachelors. We compared three aspects of male vocal behaviour: gross differences in song output, variation in repertoire use and differences in song structure. Males as bachelors had significantly higher song output and switched song types less frequently. Contrary to our expectation, bachelors sang significantly fewer song types from their repertoire compared to when those same males had a breeding partner. Songs sung by bachelor males were higher in syllabic diversity and had broader-bandwidth terminal syllables than the songs those males sang only when paired. Within song types, the fine structure of songs remained consistent across pairing status. Our results demonstrate that males change their singing behaviour with pairing status, delivering songs at a higher rate but with less variety when they are bachelors. Rufous-and-white wrens are renowned for their vocal duets, and we discuss the pattern of repertoire use in light of their duetting behaviour. These results enhance our understanding of how male behaviour varies with pairing status and the importance of vocal signalling behaviour in socially monogamous tropical animals. © Springer-Verlag 2009.