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Reliability of the Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler’s soft song in male-male conflict

Xia, C and Liu, B and Wang, D and Lloyd, H and Zhang, Y (2015) Reliability of the Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler’s soft song in male-male conflict. Avian Research, 6.

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Abstract

Background Soft song is a low-amplitude song produced by many birds. Recent studies have confirmed that soft song is an aggressive signal. For example, the Brownish-flanked Bush Warblers Cettia fortipes use soft song in male-male conflicts, particularly prior to attacks. Although stable signaling systems require that signals be honest on average, models predict that cheating is an acceptable strategy for some individuals or in some contexts. Methods This study aimed to test the reliability of soft song as an aggressive signal in the brownish-flanked bush warbler. We used mounted specimens accompanied by broadcast songs or soft songs to simulate a male attempting to invade an existing territory. Results We found the mounted specimen that coupled playback of soft songs suffered more and quicker attacks from the territory owner and that the relationship between soft song and subsequent attack in the territory owner was far from perfect. We observed territory owners that both over-signaled (i.e., produced soft song but did not attack) and under-signaled (i.e., attacked without producing soft song). Under-signaling territory owners were relatively more commonly than were over-signaling territory owners, particularly in simulated intrusion that coupled playback of soft song with a mount specimen. Conclusions We discuss the cost of producing soft song and the potential benefit of the unreliable use of soft song and propose a new hypothesis for under-signaling with soft song; i.e., under-signaling territory owners might benefit from taking the initiative in fights.

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