, Volume 63, Issue 3, pp 363-370
Date: 03 Oct 2008

Early ontogenetic effects on song quality in the Bengalese finch (Lonchura striata var. domestica ): laying order, sibling competition, and song syntax

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Birdsong differs from other sexual traits in that the acquisition process involves learning. Especially in close-ended learning species like the Bengalese finch, conditions experienced during the critical song-learning period can have a profound influence on song quality. Therefore, to understand song evolution from a life-history perspective, we investigated early ontogenetic effects on song quality. In particular, we focused on maternal effects and sibling competition. In asynchronously hatching bird species, the age hierarchy among nestlings affects physical development due to competition for food; mothers may influence this competition by adjusting their investment in each egg according to its sequence in the laying order. To independently assess these effects, chicks of the Bengalese finch were cross-fostered so that the age hierarchies formed in fostered broods were independent of the laying order. Our results indicate that song quality partially reflects early ontogenetic conditions, whereas song duration and note-type repertoire were independent of either laying order or age hierarchy. The syntactical complexity of note order declined over the laying sequence. This finding suggests that the song learning ability is influenced by within-clutch variation in maternal investment toward eggs. Considering that song syntactical complexity is subject to female preference in the Bengalese finch, it is likely that maternal resource allocation strategies play a role in song evolution.