Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of procbThe Royal Society PublishingProceedings BAboutBrowse by SubjectAlertsFree Trial
Proc Biol Sci. 2001 October 7; 268(1480): 2013–2019.
PMCID: PMC1088843

Songbird cheaters pay a retaliation cost: evidence for auditory conventional signals.


Conventional signals impose costs on senders through receiver retaliation rather than through investment in signal production. While several visual conventional signals have been described (mainly 'badges of status'), acoustic examples are rare; however, several aspects of repertoire use in songbirds are potential candidates. We performed interactive playback experiments to determine whether song-type matches (responding to a song with the same song type), repertoire matches (responding to a song with a different song type, but one in the repertoires of both singers) and unshared song types serve as conventional signals during male-male territorial interactions in banded wrens, Thryothorus pleurostictus. Our results demonstrate that these three signals incite varying levels of receiver aggression: song-type matches induce faster approach than do repertoire matches, and repertoire matches induce faster approach than do unshared song types. Production costs do not differ, while the receiver response does. Because territorial banded wrens approach opponents who signal aggressively, such opponents risk attack. This system will punish and prevent cheaters, as weak males signalling aggression will be subject to escalation by stronger or more-motivated opponents.

Full Text

The Full Text of this article is available as a PDF (144K).

Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • Bishop DT, Cannings C, Maynard Smith J, Crawford V, V, Sobel J, Cullen JM, Davies N, Dawkins R, Krebs J, Enquist M, et al. Discrete conventional signalling of a continuous variable. Anim Behav. 1998 Sep;56(3):749–754. [PubMed]
  • Marchetti K. The evolution of multiple male traits in the yellow-browed leaf warbler. Anim Behav. 1998 Feb;55(2):361–376. [PubMed]
  • Maynard Smith J, Harper DG. The evolution of aggression: can selection generate variability? Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1988 Jul 6;319(1196):557–570. [PubMed]
  • Molles Laura E, Vehrencamp Sandra L. Neighbour recognition by resident males in the banded wren, Thryothorus pleurostictus, a tropical songbird with high song type sharing. Anim Behav. 2001 Jan;61(1):119–127. [PubMed]
  • PÄRT T, Qvarnström A. Badge size in collared flycatchers predicts outcome of male competition over territories. Anim Behav. 1997 Oct;54(4):893–899. [PubMed]
  • Silk JB, Kaldor E, Boyd R. Cheap talk when interests conflict. Anim Behav. 2000 Feb;59(2):423–432. [PubMed]
  • van Rhijn JG, Vodegel R. Being honest about one's intentions: an evolutionary stable strategy for animal conflicts. J Theor Biol. 1980 Aug 21;85(4):623–641. [PubMed]
  • Vehrencamp SL. Is song-type matching a conventional signal of aggressive intentions? Proc Biol Sci. 2001 Aug 7;268(1476):1637–1642. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Zahavi A. The fallacy of conventional signalling. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1993 May 29;340(1292):227–230. [PubMed]

Articles from Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences are provided here courtesy of The Royal Society