Male songbirds often establish territories and attract mates by singing, and some song features can reflect the singer’s condition or quality. The quality of the song environment can change, so male songbirds should benefit from assessing the competitiveness of the song environment and appropriately adjusting their own singing behavior and the neural substrates by which song is controlled. In a wide range of taxa social modulation of behavior is partly mediated by the arginine vasopressin or vasotocin (AVP/AVT) systems. To examine the modulation of singing behavior in response to the quality of the song environment we compared the song output of laboratory-housed male Lincoln’s sparrows (Melospiza lincolnii) exposed to one week of chronic playback of songs categorized as either high or low quality, based on song length, complexity and trill performance. To explore the neural basis of any facultative shifts in behavior, we also quantified the subjects’ AVT immunoreactivity (AVT-IR) in three forebrain regions that regulate socio-sexual behavior: the medial bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTm), the lateral septum (LS) and the preoptic area. We found that high quality songs increased singing effort and reduced AVT-IR in the BSTm and LS, relative to low quality songs. The effect of the quality of the song environment on both singing effort and forebrain AVT-IR raises the hypothesis that AVT within these brain regions plays a role in the modulation of behavior in response to competition that individual males may assess from the prevailing song environment.
arginine vasotocin (AVT); bird song; competition; sexual selection; social behavior network
Male animals often change their behavior in response to the level of competition for mates. Male Lincoln's sparrows (Melospiza lincolnii) modulate their competitive singing over the period of a week as a function of the level of challenge associated with competitors' songs. Differences in song challenge and associated shifts in competitive state should be accompanied by neural changes, potentially in regions that regulate perception and song production. The monoamines mediate neural plasticity in response to environmental cues to achieve shifts in behavioral state. Therefore, using high pressure liquid chromatography with electrochemical detection, we compared levels of monoamines and their metabolites from male Lincoln's sparrows exposed to songs categorized as more or less challenging. We compared levels of norepinephrine and its principal metabolite in two perceptual regions of the auditory telencephalon, the caudomedial nidopallium and the caudomedial mesopallium (CMM), because this chemical is implicated in modulating auditory sensitivity to song. We also measured the levels of dopamine and its principal metabolite in two song control nuclei, area X and the robust nucleus of the arcopallium (RA), because dopamine is implicated in regulating song output. We measured the levels of serotonin and its principal metabolite in all four brain regions because this monoamine is implicated in perception and behavioral output and is found throughout the avian forebrain. After controlling for recent singing, we found that males exposed to more challenging song had higher levels of norepinephrine metabolite in the CMM and lower levels of serotonin in the RA. Collectively, these findings are consistent with norepinephrine in perceptual brain regions and serotonin in song control regions contributing to neuroplasticity that underlies socially-induced changes in behavioral state.
The environmental conditions under which signals are perceived can affect receiver responses. Many songbird populations produce a song chorus at dawn, when, in cold habitats, they would experience thermal challenge. We recorded temperature and the song activity of Lincoln's sparrows (Melospiza lincolnii) on a high-elevation meadow, and determined that song behaviour is concentrated around the coldest time of the day, at dawn. We hypothesized that this is because male song in the cold is more attractive to females than song in the warm. To test this, we exposed laboratory-housed Lincoln's sparrow females to songs at 1°C and 16°C, which they naturally experience in the wild. Females spent 40 per cent more time close to the speaker during playback at 1°C than at 16°C. When tested at 16°C 1–2 days later, females biased their movement towards the speaker playing songs previously heard at 1°C over 16°C. Thus, female Lincoln's sparrows remembered and affiliated with songs they heard under thermal challenge, indicating that the thermal environment can affect the attractiveness of a sexual signal.
dawn chorus; temperature; Melospiza lincolnii; mate choice; songbird
Morphology may affect behavioural performance through a direct, physical link or through indirect, secondary mechanisms. Although some evidence suggests that the bill morphology of songbirds directly constrains vocal performance, bill morphology may influence vocal performance through indirect mechanisms also, such as one in which morphology influences foraging and thus the ability to perform some types of vocal behaviour. This raises the possibility for ecologically induced variation in the relationship between morphology and behaviour. To investigate this, I used an information theoretic approach to examine the relationship between bill morphology and several measures of vocal performance in Lincoln’s sparrows (Melospiza lincolnii). I compared this relationship between two breeding seasons that differed markedly in ambient temperatures, phenology of habitat maturation, and food abundance. I found a strong curvilinear relationship between bill shape (height/width) and vocal performance in the seemingly less hospitable season but not in the other, leading to a difference between seasons in the population’s mean vocal performance. Currently, I do not know the cause of this annual variation. However, it could be due to the effects of bill shape on foraging and therefore on time budget, energy balance, or some other behavioural or physiological response that manifests mostly under difficult environmental conditions or, alternatively, to associations between male quality and both vocal performance and bill shape. Regardless of the cause, these results suggest the presence of an indirect, ecologically mediated link between morphology and behavioural performance, leading to annual variation in the prevailing environment of acoustic signals.
annual variation; bill morphology; bird song; environmental change; Lincoln’s sparrow; Melospiza lincolnii; sexual selection; signal production; trill performance
Complex birdsong is a classic example of a sexually selected ornamental trait. In many species, females prefer males with large song repertoires, possibly because repertoire size is limited by the size of song control nuclei which reflect developmental success. We investigated whether song repertoire size was indicative of brain area and male quality in song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) by determining if repertoire size was related to the volume of song control nucleus HVC, as well as several morphological, immunological and genetic indices of quality. We found that males with large repertoires had larger HVCs and were in better body condition. They also had lower heterophil to lymphocyte ratios, indicating less physiological stress and a robust immune system as measured by the number of lymphocytes per red blood cell. Song repertoire size also tended to increase with neutral-locus genetic diversity, as assessed by mean d2, but was not related to internal relatedness. Our results suggest several mechanisms that might explain the finding of a recent study that song sparrows with large song repertoires have higher lifetime fitness.
song repertoire size; HVC; body condition; immunity; genetic diversity; song sparrow
Charles Darwin posited that secondary sexual characteristics result from competition to attract mates. In male songbirds, specialized vocalizations represent secondary sexual characteristics of particular importance because females prefer songs at specific frequencies, amplitudes, and duration. For birds living in human-dominated landscapes, historic selection for song characteristics that convey fitness may compete with novel selective pressures from anthropogenic noise. Here we show that black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) use shorter, higher-frequency songs when traffic noise is high, and longer, lower-frequency songs when noise abates. We suggest that chickadees balance opposing selective pressures by use low-frequency songs to preserve vocal characteristics of dominance that repel competitors and attract females, and high frequency songs to increase song transmission when their environment is noisy. The remarkable vocal flexibility exhibited by chickadees may be one reason that they thrive in urban environments, and such flexibility may also support subsequent genetic adaptation to an increasingly urbanized world.
Birdsong is a sexually selected trait and is often viewed as an indicator of male quality. The developmental stress hypothesis proposes a model by which song could be an indicator; the time during early development, when birds learn complex songs and/or local variants of song, is of rapid development and nutritional stress. Birds that cope best with this stress may better learn to produce the most effective songs. The developmental stress hypothesis predicts that early food restriction should impair development of song-control brain regions at the onset of song learning. We examined the effect of food restriction on song-control brain regions in fledgling (both sexes, 23–26 days old) song sparrows (Melospiza melodia). Food restriction selectively reduced HVC volume in both sexes. In addition, sex differences were evident in all three song-control regions. This study lends further support to a growing body of literature documenting a variety of behavioural, physiological and neural detriments in several songbird species resulting from early developmental stress.
nutritional stress; neural development; HVC; sex differences; birdsong
Older males tend to have a competitive advantage over younger males in sexual selection. Therefore, it is expected that signals used in sexual selection change with age. Although song repertoire size in songbirds is often mentioned as an age-related trait, many species, including the banded wren (Thryothorus pleurostictus), do not increase their repertoires after the first year. Here, we show that banded wrens reproduce the trill notes in their songs with less variability between them (i.e. more consistently) when they grow older. In a playback experiment, we also show that banded wrens discriminate between younger and older birds based on structural aspects of their song. In a second experiment, banded wrens also respond differentially to natural songs versus songs with artificially enhanced consistency. We argue that consistency in trill note reproduction may be achieved through practice. Sexual selection in the form of male–male competition may therefore operate on a phenotypic trait, the expression of which is enhanced by practice.
sexual selection; competition; birdsong; age
Bird song is unusual as a sexually selected trait because its expression depends on learning as well as genetic and other environmental factors. Prior work has demonstrated that males who are deprived of the opportunity to learn produce songs that function little if at all in male-female interactions. We asked whether more subtle variation in male song-learning abilities influences female response to song. Using a copulation solicitation assay, we measured the response of female song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) to songs of laboratory-reared males that differed in the amount of learned versus invented material that they included and in the degree to which learned material accurately matched the model from which it was copied. Females responded significantly more to songs that had been learned better, by either measure. Females did not discriminate between the best-learned songs of laboratory-reared males and songs of wild males used as models during learning. These results provide, to our knowledge, a first experimental demonstration that variation in learning abilities among males plays a functionally important part in the expression of a sexually selected trait, and further provide support for the hypothesis that song functions as an indicator of male quality because it reflects variation in response to early developmental stress.
Factors intrinsic or extrinsic to individuals, such as their quality or the quality of competition in their social environment, can influence their communication signalling effort. We hypothesized that telencephalic monoamine secretion mediates the effects of a male’s own quality and quality of his social environment on his sexual signalling effort. The duration of a male European starling’s (Sturnus vulgaris) principal sexual signal, his song, positively correlates with several aspects of his quality, including his reproductive success, immunocompetence, and ability to attract mates. Therefore, the length of songs to which he is exposed reflects, in part, the quality of competition in his social environment. We manipulated the quality of the competitive environment by exposing male starlings to long or short songs for one week. We measured the length of songs produced by experimental males to gauge their quality, counted the number of songs they produced to gauge singing effort, and quantified telencephalic monoamine metabolism using HPLC. Singing effort increased with the length of the males’ own songs and with the length of songs to which we exposed them. Norepinephrine metabolism in Area X of the song control system was negatively correlated with the subjects’ mean song length and singing effort. Serotonin metabolism in the caudomedial mesopallium of the auditory telencephalon increased with the length of songs to which we exposed the subjects and with their singing effort. This raises the hypothesis that serotonin and norepinephrine secretion in the telencephalon help mediate the effects of extrinsic and intrinsic factors on signalling effort.
bird song; monoamines; neuroplasticity; norepinephrine; serotonin
Previous studies have shown that female sedge warblers choose to mate with males that have more complex songs, and sexual selection has driven the evolution of both song complexity and the size of the major song control area (HVc) in the brain. In songbirds, learning from conspecifics plays a major role in song development and this study investigates the effects of isolation and exposure to song on song structure and the underlying song control system. Sibling pairs of hand-reared nestling sedge warblers were reared to sexual maturity under two conditions. Siblings in one group were reared individually in acoustic isolation in separate soundproof chambers. In the other group, siblings were reared together in an aviary with playback of recorded songs. The following spring, analysis of songs revealed that siblings reared in acoustic isolation produced normal song structures, including larger syllable repertoires than those exposed to song. We found no significant differences in the volumes of HVc, nucleus robustus archistnatalis, the lateral portion of the magnocellular nucleus and the density of dendritic spines between the two groups. Males exceeded females in all these measures, and also had a larger telencephalon. Our experiments show that complex song, sexual dimorphism in brain structure, and the size of song nuclei can all develop independently of exposure to song. These findings have important implications for how sexual selection can operate upon a complex male trait such as song and how it may also shape the more general evolution of brain structure in songbirds.
Song in oscine birds is a culturally inherited mating signal and sexually dimorphic. From differences in song production learning, sex differences in song recognition learning have been inferred but rarely put to a stringent test. In zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata, females never sing and the species has one of the greatest neuroanatomical differences in song-related brain nuclei reported for songbirds. Preference tests with sibling groups for which exposure to song had been identical during the sensitive phase for song learning in males, revealed equally strong influence of the tutor's song (here the father) on males' and females' adult song preferences. Both sexes significantly preferred the father's over unfamiliar song when having free control over exposure to playbacks via an operant task. The sibling comparisons suggest that this preference developed independently of the song's absolute quality: variation between siblings was as great as between nests. The results show that early exposure has an equally strong influence on males' and females' song preferences despite the sexual asymmetry in song production learning. This suggests that the trajectory for song recognition learning is independent of the one for song production learning.
Little is known about how the brain regulates context appropriate communication. European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) are seasonally-breeding songbirds that produce song in various social contexts. During the breeding season, males that acquire nest sites sing high levels of sexually-motivated song in response to a female. Outside of this context, however, song rates are not affected by female presence. The medial preoptic nucleus (POM) is a region outside of the song control system that regulates male sexual behavior, and several studies in songbirds implicate the POM in sexually-motivated song. However, recent data suggest that the role of the POM might extend to song produced in other contexts as well. To examine this possibility, effects of bilateral electrolytic lesions of the POM on singing and other behaviors in adult male starlings within sexually relevant and non-sexual contexts in response to various social stimuli were examined. Lesions to the POM exclusively reduced song and nest box-directed behaviors within highly sexually relevant contexts. Unexpectedly, POM lesions increased song in a non-sexual context, suggesting an inhibitory role for the POM in this context. These data suggest that the POM interacts with the song control system so that song occurs in an appropriate social context in response to appropriate stimuli.
birdsong; vocal communication; social context; sexual motivation; courtship
Females of many songbird species show a preference for mating with males that have larger song repertoires, but the advantages associated with this preference are uncertain. We tested the hypothesis that song complexity can serve as an indicator of male quality because the development of the brain regions underlying song learning and production occurs when young birds typically face nutritional and other stresses, so that song reflects how well a male fared during post-hatch development. A key prediction of this hypothesis is that variation in nestling condition should correspond to variation in the adult song repertoires of individuals. We used data from a long-term study of the great reed warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) to test this prediction, correlating two measures of nestling development with subsequent repertoire size of males. We found that the length of the innermost primary feather, a standard measure of development, significantly predicted first-year repertoire size. The relationship between repertoire size and body mass was nearly significant, in spite of the large variance inherent in this measure. These data support the idea that song may provide females with information about a male's response to developmental stress, which in turn is expected to correlate with indirect or direct benefits she might receive.
Vocal performance refers to the proficiency with which a bird sings songs that are challenging to produce, and can be measured in simple trilled songs by their deviation from an upper bound regression of frequency bandwidth on trill rate. Here, we show that male swamp sparrows (Melospiza georgiana) increase the vocal performance of individual song types in aggressive contexts by increasing both the trill rate and frequency bandwidth. These results are the first to demonstrate flexible modulation by songbirds of this aspect of vocal performance and are consistent with this signal feature having a role in aggressive communication.
bird song; aggressive signalling; vocal performance
Male field crickets, Gryllus integer, in Texas, USA, produce a trilled calling song that attracts female crickets, resulting in enhanced mating success. Gravid female parasitoid flies, Ormia ochracea, are also attracted to male cricket calling song, resulting in the death of the male within about seven days. Using playbacks of field-cricket calling song in the natural habitat, we show that both female crickets and female parasitoid flies prefer male calling song with average numbers of pulses per trill. Thus female crickets exert stabilizing sexual selection, whereas flies exert disruptive natural selection on male song. Disruptive natural selection will promote genetic variation and population divergence. Stabilizing sexual selection will reduce genetic variation and maintain population cohesiveness. These forces may balance and together maintain the observed high levels of genetic variation (ca. 40%) in male calling song.
Bird song is a widely used model in the study of animal communication and sexual selection, and several song features have been shown to reflect the quality of the singer. Recent studies have demonstrated that song amplitude may be an honest signal of current condition in males and that females prefer high amplitude songs. In addition, birds raise the amplitude of their songs to communicate in noisy environments. Although it is generally assumed that louder song should be more costly to produce, there has been little empirical evidence to support this assumption. We tested the assumption by measuring oxygen consumption and respiratory patterns in adult male zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) singing at different amplitudes in different background noise conditions. As background noise levels increased, birds significantly increased the sound pressure level of their songs. We found that louder songs required significantly greater subsyringeal air sac pressure than quieter songs. Though increased pressure is probably achieved by increasing respiratory muscle activity, these increases did not correlate with measurable increases in oxygen consumption. In addition, we found that oxygen consumption increased in higher background noise, independent of singing behaviour. This observation supports previous research in mammals showing that high levels of environmental noise can induce physiological stress responses. While our study did not find that increasing vocal amplitude increased metabolic costs, further research is needed to determine whether there are other non-metabolic costs of singing louder or costs associated with chronic noise exposure.
Ornamental secondary sexual traits are hypothesized to evolve in response to directional mating preferences for more ornamented mates. Such mating preferences may themselves evolve partly because ornamentation indicates an individual's additive genetic quality (good genes). While mate choice can also confer non-additive genetic benefits (compatible genes), the identity of the most ‘compatible’ mate is assumed to depend on the choosy individual's own genotype. It is therefore unclear how choice for non-additive genetic benefits could contribute to directional mating preferences and consequently the evolution of ornamentation. In free-living song sparrows (Melospiza melodia), individual males varied in their kinship with the female population. Furthermore, a male's song repertoire size, a secondary sexual trait, was negatively correlated with kinship such that males with larger repertoires were less closely related to the female population. After excluding close relatives as potential mates, individual females were on average less closely related to males with larger repertoires. Therefore, female song sparrows expressing directional preferences for males with larger repertoires would on average acquire relatively unrelated mates and produce relatively outbred offspring. Such non-additive genetic fitness benefits of directional mating preferences, which may reflect genetic dominance variance expressed in structured populations, should be incorporated into genetic models of sexual selection.
heterozygosity; inbreeding depression; indirect fitness benefits; intersexual selection; relatedness
In many songbird species, females prefer males that sing a larger repertoire of syllables. Males with more elaborate songs have a larger high vocal centre (HVC) nucleus, the highest structure in the song production pathway. HVC size is thus a potential target of sexual selection. Here we provide evidence that the size of the HVC and other song production nuclei are heritable across individual males within a species. In contrast, we find that heritabilities of other nuclei in a song-learning pathway are lower, suggesting that variation in the sizes of these structures is more closely tied to developmental and environmental differences between individuals. We find that evolvability, a statistical measure that predicts response to selection, is higher for the HVC and its target for song production, the robustus archistriatalis (RA), than for all other brain volumes measured. This suggests that selection based on the functions of these two structures would result in rapid major shifts in their anatomy. We also show that the size of each song control nucleus is significantly correlated with the song related nuclei to which it is monosynaptically connected. Finally, we find that the volume of the telencephalon is larger in males than in females. These findings begin to join theoretical analyses of the role of female choice in the evolution of bird song to neurobiological mechanisms by which the evolutionary changes in behaviour are expressed.
Age influences behavioral decisions such as reproductive timing and effort. In photoperiodic species, such age effects may be mediated, in part, by the individual's age-accrued experience with photostimulation. In female European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) that do not differ in age, experimental manipulation of photostimulation experience (photoexperience) affects hypothalamic, pituitary, and gonadal activity associated with reproductive development. Does photoexperience also affect activity in forebrain regions involved in processing a social cue, the song of males, which can influence mate choice and reproductive timing in females? Female starlings prefer long songs over short songs in a mate-choice context, and, like that in other songbird species, their auditory telencephalon plays a major role in processing these signals. We manipulated the photoexperience of female starlings, photostimulated them, briefly exposed them to either long or short songs, and quantified the expression of the immediate-early gene ZENK (EGR-1) in the caudomedial nidopallium as a measure of activity in the auditory telencephalon. Using an information theoretic approach, we found higher ZENK immunoreactivity in females with prior photostimulation experience than in females experiencing photostimulation for the first time. We also found that long songs elicited greater ZENK immunoreactivity than short song did. We did not find an effect of the interaction between photoexperience and song length, suggesting that photoexperience does not affect forebrain ZENK-responsiveness to song quality. Thus, photoexperience affects activity in an area of the forebrain that processes social signals, an effect that we hypothesize mediates, in part, the effects of age on reproductive decisions in photoperiodic songbirds.
age and aging; Akaike Information Criterion (AIC); birdsong; experience; photoperiodism
Physically challenging signals are likely to honestly indicate signaler quality. In trilled bird song two physically challenging parameters are vocal deviation (the speed of sound frequency modulation) and trill consistency (how precisely syllables are repeated). As predicted, in several species, they correlate with male quality, are preferred by females, and/or function in male-male signaling. Species may experience different selective pressures on their songs, however; for instance, there may be opposing selection between song complexity and song performance difficulty, such that in species where song complexity is strongly selected, there may not be strong selection on performance-based traits. I tested whether vocal deviation and trill consistency are signals of male quality in house wrens (Troglodytes aedon), a species with complex song structure. Males’ singing ability did not correlate with male quality, except that older males sang with higher trill consistency, and males with more consistent trills responded more aggressively to playback (although a previous study found no effect of stimulus trill consistency on males’ responses to playback). Males singing more challenging songs did not gain in polygyny, extra-pair paternity, or annual reproductive success. Moreover, none of the standard male quality measures I investigated correlated with mating or reproductive success. I conclude that vocal deviation and trill consistency do not signal male quality in this species.
Numerous studies have focused on song in songbirds as a signal involved in mate choice and intrasexual competition. It is expected that song traits such as song rate reflect individual quality by being dependent on energetic state or condition. While seasonal variation in bird song (i.e., breeding versus non-breeding song) and its neural substrate have received a fair amount of attention, the function and information content of song outside the breeding season is generally much less understood. Furthermore, typically only measures of condition involving body mass are examined with respect to song rate. Studies investigating a potential relationship between song rate and other indicators of condition, such as physiological measures of nutritional condition, are scant. In this study, we examined whether non-breeding song rate in male European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) reflects plasma metabolite levels (high-density lipoproteins (HDL), albumin, triglycerides and cholesterol) and/or body mass. Song rate was significantly positively related to a principal component representing primarily HDL, albumin and cholesterol (and to a lesser degree plasma triglyceride levels). There was only a trend toward a significant positive correlation between song rate and body mass, and no significant correlation between body mass and the abovementioned principal component. Therefore, our results indicate that nutritional condition and body mass represent different aspects of condition, and that song rate reflects nutritional rather than body condition. Additionally, we also found that intra-individual song rate consistency (though not song rate itself) was significantly positively related to lutein levels, but not to body mass or nutritional condition. Together our results suggest that the relation between physiological measures of nutritional condition and song rate, as well as other signals, may present an interesting line of future research, both inside and outside the breeding season.
Recent research has demonstrated that bird song learning is influenced by social factors, but so far has been unable to isolate the particular social variables central to the learning process. Here we test the hypothesis that eavesdropping on singing interactions of adults is a key social event in song learning by birds. In a field experiment, we compared the response of juvenile male song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) to simulated adult counter-singing versus simulated solo singing. We used radio telemetry to follow the movements of each focal bird and assess his response to each playback trial. Juveniles approached the playback speakers when exposed to simulated interactive singing of two song sparrows, but not when exposed to simulated solo singing of a single song sparrow, which in fact they treated similar to heterospecific singing. Although the young birds approached simulated counter-singing, neither did they approach closely, nor did they vocalize themselves, suggesting that the primary function of approach was to permit eavesdropping on these singing interactions. These results indicate that during the prime song-learning phase, juvenile song sparrows are attracted to singing interactions between adults but not to singing by a single bird and suggest that singing interactions may be particularly powerful song-tutoring events.
vocal learning; radio telemetry; song learning; Melospiza melodia; eavesdropping; song sparrow
Male European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) sing throughout the year, but the social factors that motivate singing behavior differ depending upon the context in which song is produced. In a non-breeding context (when testosterone concentrations are low) starlings form large, mixed-sex flocks and song is involved in flock cohesion and perhaps maintenance of social hierarchies. In contrast, in a breeding context (when testosterone concentrations are high) male song plays a direct role in mate attraction. How the nervous system ensures that song production occurs in an appropriate context in response to appropriate stimuli is not well understood. The song control system regulates song production, learning, and to some extent perception; however these nuclei do not appear to regulate the social context in which song is produced. A network of steroid hormone sensitive nuclei of the basal forebrain and midbrain regulates social behavior. The present study used the immediate early gene cFOS to explore possible involvement of these regions in context-dependent song production. Numbers of cFOS-labeled cells in the medial bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, anterior hypothalamus, and ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus related positively only to song produced in a breeding context. In contrast, numbers of cFOS-labeled cells in three zones of the lateral septum related positively only to song produced in a non-breeding context. Taken together, these data suggest differential regulation of male starling song by social behavior nuclei depending upon the breeding context in which it is produced.
songbird; season; context; vocal communication; immediate early gene; cFOS; lateral septum; bed nucleus of the stria terminalis; anterior hypothalamus; ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus
The evolution of mating signals is closely linked to sexual selection. Acoustic ornaments are often used as secondary sexual traits that signal the quality of the signaller. Here we show that song performance reflects age and reproductive success in the rock sparrow (Petronia petronia). In an Alpine population in south-east France, we recorded the songs of males and assessed their genetic breeding success by microsatellite analysis. In addition to temporal and spectral song features, we also analysed for the first time whether the sound pressure level of bird song reflects reproductive success. Males with higher breeding success sang at a lower rate and with a higher maximum frequency. We found also that older males gained more extra-pair young and had a higher overall breeding success, although they also differed almost significantly by having a higher loss of paternity in their own nests. Older males could be distinguished from yearlings by singing at lower rate and higher amplitudes. Our findings suggest that song rate may be used as a signal of age and together with song pitch as a signal of reproductive success in this species. Alternatively, younger and less successful males might try to compensate their inferior status by increased song rates and lower pitch. Independent of age and quality, high-amplitude songs correlated with paternity loss in the own nest, suggesting that in this species song amplitude is not an indicator of male quality but high-intensity songs may be rather a response to unfaithful social mates.