Behavior: Allometry of alarm calls: Black-capped chickadees encode information about predator size

Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA.
Science (Impact Factor: 33.61). 07/2005; 308(5730):1934-7. DOI: 10.1126/science.1108841
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Many animals produce alarm signals when they detect a potential predator, but we still know little about the information contained in these signals. Using presentations of 15 species of live predators, we show that acoustic features of the mobbing calls of black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapilla) vary with the size of the predator. Companion playback experiments revealed that chickadees detect this information and that the intensity of mobbing behavior is related to the size and threat of the potential predator. This study demonstrates an unsuspected level of complexity and sophistication in avian alarm calls.

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Available from: Christopher N. Templeton, Sep 27, 2015
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    • "Previous chickadee and titmouse studies using both live predators (Sieving et al. 2010; Templeton et al. 2005) and model or taxidermy mount predators (Bartmess-LeVasseur et al. 2010; Courter and Ritchison 2010; Pravosudov and Grubb 1998; Soard and Ritchison 2009) obtained similar patterns of response when the predator was detected. Typically, titmice and chickadees call more and sometimes modify the note composition of their chick-a-dee call, the greater the threat posed by the size or type of the predator stimulus. "
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    ABSTRACT: Although anti-predator behavior systems have been studied in diverse taxa, less is known about how prey species detect and assess the immediate threat posed by a predator based on its behavior. In this study, we evaluated a potential cue that some species may utilize when assessing predation threat-the predator's body and head orientation. We tested the effect of this orientation cue on signaling and predation-risk-sensitive foraging of a prey species, tufted titmice (Baeolophus bicolor). Earlier work revealed sensitivity of titmice and related species to the presence of predator stimuli. Here, we manipulated cat models to face either toward or away from a food source preferred by titmice and then measured titmouse calling and seed-taking behavior. Titmice showed greater feeder avoidance when the cat predator models faced the feeder, compared to when the models faced away from the feeder or when titmice were exposed to control stimuli. Titmouse calling was also sensitive to predator head/body orientation, depending upon whether titmice were from sites where real cats had been observed or not. This study experimentally demonstrated that both calling and foraging of prey species can be affected by the head and body orientation of an important terrestrial predator. Prey species may therefore signal in strategic ways to conspecifics not just about predator presence, but also urgency of threat related to the more subtle cue of the head and body orientation of the predator. These findings hold potential implications for understanding animal cognition and learning processes.
    Animal Cognition 06/2015; 18(5). DOI:10.1007/s10071-015-0888-7
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    • "Various referential and risk-based alarm-calling systems play an adaptive role by eliciting a threat-appropriate response. Blackcapped chickadees, for example, adjust the length and intensity of their mobbing response in accordance with the level of threat encoded in conspecific mobbing calls (Templeton et al., 2005), and threat-specific alarm calls determine situation-specific escape responses in other passerines (Griesser, 2008; Suzuki, 2012). Specific information about a potential threat can thus increase the efficiency of antipredator responses and minimize energy expenditure. "
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    ABSTRACT: Recent studies have demonstrated the presence of risk-based variation in alarm calling in many vertebrate species. Most of the studies on birds, however, have focused on passerine systems perhaps due to the traditional view that passerine vocalizations are more complex. We investigated the presence of a risk-based alarm calling system in a nonpasserine, the herring gull, Larus argentatus, by recording birds presented with varying degrees of threat, and experimentally exposing and quantifying responses to manipulated alarm calls. We found that herring gulls communicate threat urgency in their alarm calls using both frequency and time parameters. Sound recordings indicated that herring gulls change centre frequency modulation patterns of their alarm calls, generate frequency discontinuities in notes and increase the rate of calling with increases in perceived threat level. Playback experiments showed that conspecifics pay attention to both frequency and time parameters and respond most urgently to play-backs of high-threat calls at a high call rate. A less urgent response to high-threat calls at a low call rate and to low-threat calls at a high call rate suggests that threat urgency information is reinforced by both call type and call rate in the herring gull system. This study is one of the first demonstrations of a risk-based alarm calling system in a nonpasserine.
    Animal Behaviour 06/2015; 106:129-136. DOI:10.1016/j.anbehav.2015.05.011
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    • "D notes contain species-specific information [13] [14] [15], and all species in the genus Poecile produce a variant of the chick-a-dee call. D notes also have multiple biologically important functions (e.g., flock identification: black-capped chickadees [16]; recruiting flock mates to a food source: Carolina chickadees, Poecile carolinensis [17]; information regarding predator threat level: black-capped chickadees [18]; tufted titmice, Baeolophus bicolor [19]; Carolina chickadees [20]). Because D notes are a salient component of the chick-a-dee call, we examined the effects of experience on ZENK expression in adult black-capped chickadees following playback of conspecific D notes. "
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    ABSTRACT: Black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) produce numerous vocalizations, including the acoustically complex chick-a-dee call that is composed of A, B, C, and D notes. D notes are longer in duration and lower in frequency than the other note types and contain information regarding flock and species identification. Adult wild-caught black-capped chickadees have been shown to have similar amounts of immediate early gene (IEG) expression following playback of vocalizations with harmonic-like acoustic structure similar to D notes. Here we examined how different environmental experience affects IEG response to conspecific D notes. We hand-reared black-capped chickadees under three conditions: (1) with adult conspecifics, (2) with adult heterospecific mountain chickadees and (3) without adults. We presented all hand-reared birds and a control group of field-reared black-capped chickadees, with conspecific D notes and quantified IEG expression in the caudomedial mesopallium (CMM) and the caudomedial nidopallium (NCM). We found that field-reared birds that heard normal D notes had a similar neural response as a group of field-reared birds that heard playback of reversed D notes. Field-reared birds that heard normal D notes also had a similar neural response as birds reared with adult conspecifics. Birds reared without adults had a significantly reduced IEG response, while the IEG expression in birds reared with heterospecifics was at intermediate levels between birds reared with conspecifics and birds reared without adults. Although acoustic characteristics have been shown to drive IEG expression, our results demonstrate that experience with adults or normal adult vocalizations is also an important factor. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
    Behavioural brain research 03/2015; 287. DOI:10.1016/j.bbr.2015.03.021
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