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Ecstatic display calls of the Adélie penguin honestly predict male condition and breeding success

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The Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) breeds in large, noisy Antarctic colonies and has evolved a communication system of complex intra- and inter-sexual visual and vocal behaviours. The Ecstatic Display Call (EDC) given by males whilst at the breeding colony is composed of introductory beats, short repeated syllables and a climactic long syllable. Here, we show that spectral qualities of the short syllables of the EDC can predict body condition and breeding success and suggest that in addition to its role in territory defence, the EDC may function as an honest signal of male quality for female mate choice. In the short repeated syllables frequency modulation, mean frequency, and pitch were all significantly lower in birds of better condition, with frequency modulation changing concomitantly with changing condition during the breeding season. Furthermore, during the period of mate attraction, a male's frequency modulation predicted both his latency to pair and likelihood of successfully breeding. Due to the long incubation fasts in this species we propose that female Adélie penguins may reliably use frequency modulation of the EDC as a potentially honest signal of early season male condition and the likelihood of a successful breeding outcome.

Affiliations: 1: The Bioinformatics Institute, University of Auckland, P.O. Box 92019, Auckland, New Zealand;, Email:; 2: The Bioinformatics Institute, University of Auckland, P.O. Box 92019, Auckland, New Zealand; 3: Ecology and Conservation Group, Institute of Natural Resources, Albany Campus, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand


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