Title

Context-Dependent Functions of Avian Duets Revealed by Microphone-Array Recordings and Multispeaker Playback

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2008

Publication Title

Current Biology

Volume

18

Issue

17

First Page

1314

Last Page

1319

DOI

10.1016/j.cub.2008.07.073

Abstract

In many tropical animals, male and female breeding partners combine their songs to produce vocal duets [1-5]. Duets are often so highly coordinated that human listeners mistake them for the songs of a single animal [6]. Behavioral ecologists rank duets among the most complex vocal performances in the animal kingdom [7, 8]. Despite much research, the evolutionary significance of duets remains elusive [9], in part because many duetting animals live in tropical habitats where dense vegetation makes behavioral observation difficult or impossible. Here, we evaluate the duetting behavior of rufous-and-white wrens (Thryothorus rufalbus) in the humid forests of Costa Rica. We employ two innovative technical approaches to study duetting behavior: an eight-microphone acoustic location system capable of triangulating animals' positions on the basis of recordings of their vocalizations [10] and dual-speaker playback capable of simulating duets in a spatially realistic manner [11]. Our analyses provide the first detailed spatial information on duetting in both a natural context and during confrontations with rivals. We demonstrate that birds perform duets across highly variable distances, that birds approach their partner after performing duets, and that duets of rivals induce aggressive, sex-specific responses. We conclude that duets serve distinct functions in aggressive and nonaggressive contexts. © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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