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Animal Behaviour



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When using signals to attract mates or defend resources, animals often overlap the voices of other individuals in close proximity. In such contexts signal masking is likely and animals would benefit by adopting behavioural strategies that modify the timing of signals to minimize the negative effects of masking or take advantage of its signalling value. Indeed, temporal coordination has been commonly described in a wide variety of taxa, but compelling evidence demonstrating that it arises as an active process is scarce. Here we investigate the degree of coordinated singing by lekking long-billed hermit hummingbirds, Phaethornis longirostris, in the Neotropics, using randomization tests to study the timing of vocal signals. We first demonstrate that a randomization statistical approach is robust at detecting coordinated singing in simulated data. Then, we show that long-billed hermits engage in vocal interactions in which either song alternation or song overlap is used. Furthermore, we show that singing behaviour varies with the distance between singers: hermits alternate their songs when they are in close proximity, and they overlap songs at farther distances. Birds achieve these two behaviours by modifying the time intervals between signals. The association between pattern of coordination and distance is not fully explained by any of the current hypotheses for song overlap and suggests that multiple context-dependent singing strategies could be involved. Our findings provide compelling evidence on vocal coordination as an active process in this species and validate an analytical approach that could be extended to investigate similar patterns in other taxa. © 2016 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour



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