Background Birdsong, a key model in animal communication studies, has been the focus of intensive research. Song traits are commonly considered to reflect differences in individual or territory quality. Yet, few studies have quantified the variability of song traits between versus within individuals (i.e. repeatability), and thus whether certain song traits indeed provide reliable individual-specific information. Here, we studied the dawn chorus of male great tits (Parus major) to determine if key song traits are repeatable over multiple days and during different breeding stages. Additionally, we examined whether repeatability was associated with exploration behaviour, a relevant personality trait. Finally, we tested if variation in song traits could be explained by breeding stage, lowest night temperature, and exploration behaviour. Results We show that the start time of an individual’s dawn song was indeed repeatable within and across breeding stages, and was more repeatable before, than during, their mate’s egg laying stage. Males started singing later when the preceding night was colder. Daily repertoire size was repeatable, though to a lesser extent than song start time, and no differences were observed between breeding stages. We did not find evidence for an association between exploration behaviour and variation in dawn song traits. Repertoire composition, and specifically the start song type, varied across days, but tended to differ less than expected by chance. Conclusions Our findings that individuals consistently differ in key song traits provides a better understanding of the information receivers can obtain when sampling songs of different males. Surprisingly, start time, despite being influenced by a highly variable environmental factor, appeared to be a more reliable signal of individual differences than repertoire size. Against expectation, singers were more repeatable before than during their mate’s egg laying stage, possibly because before egg laying, females are less constrained to move around unguarded and thus may then already sample (and compare) different singers. Combining repeated dawn song recordings with spatial tracking could reveal if the sampling strategies of receivers are indeed important drivers of repeatability of song traits. Such a complementary approach will further advance our insights into the dynamics and evolution of animal signalling systems.
|Datum van beschikbaarheid||19 jul 2019|