Studying individual vocal communication in group-living songbirds

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GILL, Lisa Franziska, 2016. Studying individual vocal communication in group-living songbirds [Dissertation]. Konstanz: University of Konstanz

@phdthesis{Gill2016Study-36811, title={Studying individual vocal communication in group-living songbirds}, year={2016}, author={Gill, Lisa Franziska}, address={Konstanz}, school={Universität Konstanz} }

eng 2017-01-18T13:56:17Z terms-of-use 2017-01-18T13:56:17Z Gill, Lisa Franziska Studying individual vocal communication in group-living songbirds 2016 Gill, Lisa Franziska Studying animal vocal communication (sending and receiving acoustic signals produced in the vocal tract) in groups is a challenge because the presence of multiple signallers may impede clean, non-overlapping recordings of individuals, and makes it difficult to identify exactly which animal produced which sound. Further, defining senders and receivers in vocal communication can be difficult even in simple vocal exchanges, which is even more challenging when a group of individuals is vocalising close by. But especially in group-living animals, vocal communication often plays a crucial role for survival and reproduction: vocal signals are used to facilitate contact and coordination with an entire group, for example to optimise foraging and anti-predator behaviour, but also to find and communicate with important members inside the group, for example with offspring or a mate. Songbirds may use two different types of signals to communicate vocally: songs and calls. Songs are intricate, learned vocal patterns, often involved in mate attraction and territory defence. Calls are simpler in structure, but more variable in terms of the contexts in which they occur, making them more flexible for the use in communicative vocal interactions between individuals – but also making them difficult to study.<br />To investigate group vocal communication from a functional perspective, it would be ideal to disentangle the roles, costs and benefits of all individuals involved in vocal interactions, while providing complex contexts in which animals may exhibit their normal behaviours. One approach to this is to place a microphone directly on the sound-producing animal, which opens up the possibility to study different, even very “private”, communication channels of individuals inside groups. Due to technical advances (miniaturisation), this approach is becoming increasingly available, even for small animals, but so far, studies are rare that investigate such techniques, their potential effects, pros and cons, to make use of their full potential. The main aim of this dissertation was thus to investigate different methods for studying vocal communication of group-living songbirds in naturalistic contexts, in order to answer specific research questions.<br />I studied the effects of such methods on small songbirds under controlled conditions, and investigated their potential for communication studies (chapter 1). I also got involved in establishing a basis for acoustic context recognition and information yield of on-board microphone recordings (chapter 3), and used alternative approaches to define senders and receivers of vocal interactions (chapter 2, Appendix 1). Applying these methods, I was able to disentangle “who is who” in natural, i.e. spontaneously occurring, vocal interactions in group-housed zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) in the lab, and in wild, group-living jackdaws (Corvus monedula) in the field. In this way, I studied the importance of zebra finch call communication of individuals and pairs inside groups over the course of changing life-history stages (chapter 2), and found that call types not only changed in terms of individual-level usage, but also in vocal interactions between individuals. I also found evidence that calling interactions between mates may be related to pair breeding success, thus highlighting the importance of calls in communication systems. In jackdaws, by revealing male copulation calls and extra-pair copulation behaviour (chapter 4), I was able to describe unknown aspects of vocal behaviour as a basis for future investigations, and challenge previous claims of absolute monogamy in this corvid species.

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