, Volume 62, Issue 5, pp 831-841

Site specificity in advertisement calls and responses to playbacks of local and foreign call variants in satin bowerbirds, Ptilonorhynchus violaceus

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Avian vocalisations often show patterns of geographic variation. Previous work on the satin bowerbird has shown that although spatial variation in this species’ advertisement calls is strongly associated with habitat structure, some variation is apparent within habitat types. Seventeen populations located throughout the species’ distribution were used to examine whether spatial call variation could be influenced by other processes such as random drift or the presence of fine-scale vocal traditions; if this were the case, differing call variants would be expected at geographically discrete sampling sites both within and among habitat types. There were population-specific call variants at each of the sites sampled, with different variants apparent even within habitat types. At most sites, individuals gave only a single variant of advertisement call, and the call variant at one site, sampled after a 5-year interval, appears to have been relatively stable. Playback experiments were conducted at three populations to examine whether local call variants invoked a greater response than several non-local variants differing in their degree of similarity to the local variant. Birds responded strongly to local call variants but not to either of two foreign variants, one of which was similar to their local variant and one of which was very different. A pattern of geographic variation across populations, the fact that local and non-local variants evoke different responses and circumstantial evidence indicating that individuals can learn new calls all suggest that factors affecting song learning and the ability of males to establish and defend a bower site may have contributed to the establishment of geographically variable vocal cultures in this species.

Communicated by J. Podos