Eavesdropping and communication networks revealed through playback and an acoustic location system

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Behavioral Ecology





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Our understanding of animal communication is expanding from a dyadic framework of one signaler and one receiver to a broader communication network model, yet empirical studies of communication networks are scarce. To investigate whether territorial males eavesdrop on interactions occurring outside of their territory boundaries and to quantify the neighborhood-level effects of song contests, we simulated diurnal dyadic countersinging exchanges in the undefended spaces between established territories of black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus). In each of 10 neighborhoods, we used stereo playback to simulate interactions between 2 unknown rivals. We simulated 2 types of song contests that differed only in the relative timing and patterning of the songs of the contestants; aggressive treatments contained frequency matching and song overlapping, whereas submissive treatments contained neither matching nor overlapping. We used a 16-microphone acoustic location system to record males in the neighborhood surrounding the playback apparatus. Territorial chickadees responded more intensely to the aggressive treatments than the submissive treatments. Neighborhood song output (number of songs produced by all individuals in the recording area) was twice as high after aggressive playback than after submissive playback. Males with territories bordering the playback apparatus had higher song output than males who were more than one territory removed from the playback apparatus. We did not find an influence of male dominance rank on playback responses. Our results reveal that territorial male chickadees eavesdrop on and respond to interactions occurring outside of their territory boundaries. © The Author 2008. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Society for Behavioral Ecology. All rights reserved.