Element repertoire: Change and development with age in Whitethroat Sylvia communis song

Journal of Ornithology 04/2010; 151(2):469-476. DOI: 10.1007/s10336-009-0481-4


Song repertoires are often important determining factors in sexual selection. In several species, older males have larger
repertoires than 1-year-old males. The development of large song repertoires by an individual is, however, poorly understood.
We studied song element repertoire changes in five individual male Whitethroats Sylvia communis sampled as 1- and 2-year olds. These males increased the size of their element repertoire between their first and second
year, but song length and number of different elements per song did not change. On average, 44.3% of the song elements in
the first-year repertoire were also found in the second-year repertoire. Elements shared between years were found earlier
in the songs and tended to occur in sequences. Sequences of shared elements also seemed to be conserved between years. The
study suggests that the song element repertoire of the second year is partly based on the first-year repertoire, which may
explain why large song repertoires are mainly expressed by males at least 2 years of age. It would appear, therefore, that
song element repertoire size could be a reliable signal of male age.

KeywordsAge-Delayed maturation-Song development-Song repertoire-
Sylvia communis

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    • "Despite the small differences in repertoire size between age groups, the longitudinal analysis revealed a dramatic turnover of repertoires between the first and second breeding season: Birds dropped a large part of their repertoires and added many new elements, so that they used only a small proportion of their repertoire in both years (on average 11 % of the combined repertoire, 23 % of the whistle and only 3 % of the twitter repertoire). A large repertoire turnover between years was also observed in other species: 43 % overlap in the common nightingale (Kiefer et al. 2009) and 16 % in the whitethroat (Balsby and Hansen 2009), both between yearlings and 2-year-old individuals; 33–44 % overlap in sedge warblers [also older than 2-year-old individuals ; Nicholson et al. (2007)]. Thus, such repertoire turnovers may be a common phenomenon. "
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    ABSTRACT: Most oscine bird species possess a repertoire of different song patterns, and repertoire size is thought to signal aspects of male quality. As age is assumed to be related to male quality in terms of experience and/or viability, repertoire size may be expected to reflect male age. Here, we investigated the relationship between repertoire size and age (yearlings or older) in Eurasian blackbirds, Turdus merula, a species with a large repertoire delivered in a highly variable manner. We found that older males tended to have larger repertoires than yearlings though the two age groups overlapped considerably. Thus, compared to other species with large repertoires, age-related differences in repertoire size seem rather small in male Eurasian blackbirds. We also compared repertoires of three individuals in two successive years (as yearlings and in the year following) and found a large element turnover. Our investigation revealed that this turnover was almost complete in the quiet terminating twitter part of the song. Such turnover may allow a young bird to adjust his repertoire to his neighbours’ repertoires, which could be useful for song matching interactions.
    Full-text · Article · Oct 2012 · acta ethologica
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    • "In some songbird species, a large repertoire of song elements is advantageous in female attraction (Lampe & Saetre 1995; Buchanan & Catchpole 1997; Reid et al. 2004; but see review by Byers & Kroodsma 2009). In species in which song repertoires increase with age, such as nightingales Luscinia megarhynchos (Nicholson et al. 2007; Kiefer et al. 2009), whitethroats Sylvia communis (Balsby & Hansen 2010) and pied flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca (Espmark & Lampe 1993), females choosing males with large repertoires may as a result provide their offspring with good genes for viability (Nicholson et al. 2007). In male–male competition, however, a different trait may be of importance, namely the ability to share song elements with territorial neighbours (Beecher et al. 2000; Wilson et al. 2000; Beecher & Brenowitz 2005). "
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    ABSTRACT: In some songbird species, large song repertoires are advantageous in female attraction, whereas song sharing with neighbours may give an advantage in male-male competition. Open-ended learners, with the ability to memorize new song elements throughout their lives, may learn from territorial neighbours and thus benefit from increasing both repertoire size and song sharing. A distinction needs to be made between true adult song learning, i.e. memorization of novel song elements, and vocal plasticity resulting in changes in the use of previously memorized elements, such as the use of hidden repertoires or increased production of previously rare syllable types. We assessed the ability of adult pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca males to learn previously unheard song elements and to change their song production in response to playback of unfamiliar, conspecific song, emulating a singing neighbour. After a 1-week playback treatment, three out of 20 subjects had learned foreign song elements, providing evidence from the wild that pied flycatchers are true open-ended learners. However, the syllable sharing with the playback stimulus repertoires had not changed, and the males' repertoires had decreased rather than increased. Hence, we did not find support for increased syllable sharing with neighbours or increased repertoire size as functions of adult song learning in pied flycatchers. Because pied flycatcher song seems to serve mainly for mate attraction, copying of attractive syllable types is a possible alternative function of adult song learning in this species.
    Full-text · Article · Mar 2011 · Ethology
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    ABSTRACT: Birdsong is a well-known sexually selected trait that plays a major role in female choice and male – male interactions. Although birdsong has been studied for many years, it has only recently been suggested that it is a multifaceted signal that could encompass multiple sexually selected traits. According to the theories on the evolution and maintenance of multiple sexually selected signals, the different components of birdsong may signal multiple, redundant or unreliable information on male quality. We used a cross-sectional approach to examine whether the expression of song in the great tit was differentially related to any of three measures of quality: age, condition and survival. We analysed several informative characteristics in great tit song concerning diversity, output, performance and consistency to see whether different traits were simultaneously related to the studied quality parameters, or if, in contrast, each song trait was related to only one of the measures of quality. Song consistency and repertoire size were strongly related to only one of the studied parameters (age and survival, respectively), indicating that different song traits signal specific quality characteristics, and providing, therefore, evidence to support the multiple-signal hypothesis. Moreover, measures of song performance and song output (phrase and strophe rate) correlated positively with repertoire size, which might indicate that, at the same time, great tit song is signalling redundant information. In addition, some song characteristics did not correlate with any of the quality parameters measured, suggesting that those song traits might provide unreliable information.
    No preview · Article · Sep 2010 · Animal Behaviour
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