Female swamp sparrows do not show evidence of discriminating between the songs of peak-aged and senescent males

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2021-01-01

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Abstract

Sexual selection theory predicts that females face contrasting selection pressures when choosing the age of their mate. On the one hand, older males have demonstrated their ability to survive and they may be more experienced than younger males. At the same time, however, younger males are expected to have accumulated fewer deleterious mutations in their germline as compared to older males. These contrasting pressures on female preference may result in a preference for intermediate-aged males. A preference for males of a particular age can only be expressed, however, if females are able to identify males of different ages. We have previously shown that male swamp sparrows display age-related changes in vocal quality, such that males display sharp increases in vocal quality in early adulthood, followed by gradual senescent declines thereafter. We have also shown that territorial males discriminate these within-individual differences, giving stronger aggressive responses to songs of peak-aged males than to those of senescent males. Here, we use a copulation solicitation assay to test whether females also discriminate these within-signaler markers of senescence in song. Contrary to our prediction, females did not show any evidence of discriminating between songs recorded from peak-aged males as compared to songs from the same males following song senescence. We suggest that this difference in demonstrated discrimination between males and females may be the result of the two sexes attending to different song characteristics.

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10.1111/eth.13102

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Zipple, MN, S Peters, WA Searcy and S Nowicki (2021). Female swamp sparrows do not show evidence of discriminating between the songs of peak-aged and senescent males. Ethology, 127(1). pp. 91–97. 10.1111/eth.13102 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/26537.

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Scholars@Duke

Nowicki

Stephen Nowicki

Professor of Biology

Our lab studies animal communication, asking both proximate and ultimate questions about how signaling systems function and how they evolve. Most of our work is done with birds, although lab members have studied a variety of other taxa. One major theme that runs through our work is to understand how signal reliability (“honesty”) is maintained in the face of the competing evolutionary interests of signal senders and receivers. We use both laboratory experiments and field-based analyses to test hypotheses about the costs of signal production, which theory suggests are necessary to maintain reliability. For example, we have demonstrated that the reliability of birdsong as a signal of quality in the context of mate choice is maintained by variation in the response of young birds to early developmental stress, which in turn affects brain development and song learning. Another theme that runs through our work concerns how animals themselves perceive signals, in particular the role of categorical perception in communication. Our work here began with birdsong, for example demonstrating context-dependent variation in category boundaries that define the smallest acoustic units of song (“notes”), and identifying categorical responses of neurons in the “song system” of the brain to variation in those notes. More recently, we have begun to study categorical perception in visual signaling, demonstrating for example that the carotenoid-based orange-red coloration commonly used in assessment signaling may be perceived categorically. This finding illustrates the connection between our interests in perception and reliability, given that canonical models of reliability assume continuous perception.


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