Females and males respond more strongly to duets than to female solos: comparing the function of duet and solo singing in a tropical songbird (Icterus icterus)

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Both females and males of many animals possess elaborate displays, such as solo songs and duets of songbirds. We know little about the function of female song or what selects for duets. To examine their possible functions, we played female solos, duets and a heterospecific control to pairs of troupials (Icterus icterus). Both sexes responded strongly to duets by approaching the playback speaker significantly closer, faster, and more often compared to female solos or the control. Neither sex responded strongly to female solos; troupials approached closer, sang sooner, and duetted more following female solos than the control, but this difference was not significant. Our results indicate that troupial duets pose a greater threat than female solos and female troupial solos are not particularly threatening. Troupial duets may be especially threatening because they indicate the presence of a mated pair, which likely poses a greater territorial threat than lone, unmated birds.



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  • Principle component analysis weights for five variables measured in response to playbacks of female solos, duets and a heterospecific control.

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  • Principle component analysis PC scores for five variables measured in response to playbacks of female solos, duets and a heterospecific control.

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  • Linear mixed model (LMM) results for experimental playback of female solos, duets, and a heterospecific control to troupials (Icterus icterus).

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  • Troupials approach the playback speaker faster, closer, and more times after duets than after female solos or a heterospecific control. Smaller values for latency to approach and closest approach represent faster response times and closer approaches. See Figure A1 in the Appendix for the responses of each sex separately.

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  • Although not significantly different, troupials exhibit a graded vocal response to playback of duets, female solos, and a heterospecific control, suggesting that female solos elicit an intermediate aggressive response compared to duets and the control.

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  • (A) Latency to approach, (B) closest approach, (C) number of flights toward speaker, and (D) latency to sing shown separately for female and male troupials. Combined, both sexes approached the playback speaker faster, closer, and more times after duets than after female solos or a heterospecific control, indicated by significantly different values for PC1. There was also a non-significant trend for troupials to sing sooner following duets than following female solos or the control, represented by PC2.

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