Title

Large vocal repertoires do not constrain the dear enemy effect: a playback experiment and comparative study of songbirds

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2016

Publication Title

Animal Behaviour

Volume

118

First Page

55

Last Page

64

DOI

10.1016/j.anbehav.2016.05.011

Abstract

Many territorial animals are less aggressive towards neighbours than they are towards strangers. This phenomenon is known as the ‘dear enemy’ effect and it occurs because strangers represent a considerably higher threat to territory take-over compared to neighbours. Some evidence has suggested that large repertoires may constrain neighbour–stranger discrimination. We tested whether songbirds with large repertoires exhibit neighbour–stranger discrimination, conducting a playback study on a songbird with a large vocal repertoire, and a comparative analysis of the dear enemy effect across all published studies of songbirds. In our playback study, we broadcast neighbour and stranger songs within the breeding territories of red-eyed vireos, Vireo olivaceus, a songbird species with a large song repertoire (ca. 50 songs per individual). Vireos responded significantly more aggressively to playback of stranger versus neighbour songs; subjects approached closer to the loudspeaker, had a lower latency to approach the loudspeaker, spent more time near the loudspeaker and sang more soft songs during stranger trials than during neighbour trials. We examined song sharing between red-eyed vireos and found low levels of song sharing between neighbours, suggesting that red-eyed vireos may discriminate among conspecifics based on individually distinctive song types. We then conducted a comparative analysis of neighbour–stranger discrimination across the published literature on songbirds, using a phylogenetically controlled analysis to explore whether species with large repertoires are less likely to discriminate between neighbours and strangers. Across 34 species, we found no evidence that songbirds with large repertoires are constrained in their ability to distinguish between neighbours and strangers. We conclude that large song repertoires do not inhibit neighbour–stranger discrimination in red-eyed vireos specifically, or songbirds generally. © 2016 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour

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