Trill consistency is an age-related assessment signal in banded wrens

Selvino R. de Kort, Erin R.B. Eldermire, Sandra Valderrama, Carlos A. Botero, Sandra L. Vehrencamp

Abstract

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.

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Footnotes

  • Present address: National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, 2024 West Main Street, Suite A200, Durham, NC 27705, USA.

    • Received January 23, 2009.
    • Accepted March 2, 2009.
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