High-Pitched Notes during Vocal Contests Signal Genetic Diversity in Ocellated Antbirds

University of Sussex, United Kingdom
PLoS ONE (Impact Factor: 3.53). 12/2009; 4(12):e8137. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0008137
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Animals use honest signals to assess the quality of competitors during aggressive interactions. Current theory predicts that honest signals should be costly to produce and thus reveal some aspects of the phenotypic or genetic quality of the sender. In songbirds, research indicates that biomechanical constraints make the production of some acoustic features costly. Furthermore, recent studies have found that vocal features are related to genetic diversity. We linked these two lines of research by evaluating if constrained acoustic features reveal male genetic diversity during aggressive interactions in ocellated antbirds (Phaenostictus mcleannani). We recorded the aggressive vocalizations of radiotagged males at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica, and found significant variation in the highest frequency produced among individuals. Moreover, we detected a negative relationship between the frequency of the highest pitched note and vocalization duration, suggesting that high pitched notes might constrain the duration of vocalizations through biomechanical and/or energetic limitations. When we experimentally exposed wild radiotagged males to simulated acoustic challenges, the birds increased the pitch of their vocalization. We also found that individuals with higher genetic diversity (as measured by zygosity across 9 microsatellite loci) produced notes of higher pitch during aggressive interactions. Overall, our results suggest that the ability to produce high pitched notes is an honest indicator of male genetic diversity in male-male aggressive interactions.

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