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Degradation of Great Tit (Parus Major) Song Before And After Foliation: Implications for Vocal Communication in a Deciduous Forest

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Songbirds living in temperate forests experience great seasonal changes in habitat acoustics during the part of the breeding season when singing activity is high. These changes, which are brought about by accelerated vegetation growth and leaf burst in spring, affect sound propagation and potentially render vocal communication more difficult as the total number of scattering and absorbing obstacles increases. We investigated this in a sound transmission experiment in which representative great tit (Parus major) songs were broadcast in a typical forest habitat before and after foliation. Speaker and microphone were placed at natural separation distances and in typical sender and receiver positions. For each song note we quantified several aspects of sound degradation and found that they all increased considerably when leaves were present. Before foliation the same amount of degradation would only be obtained by doubling the transmission distance, i.e. foliage shortens the active space of great tit song. This inevitably alters distance information, provided that distance-dependent, structural changes of received songs are used as ranging cues. Moreover, sender and receiver positions within the canopy become unfavourable compared to heights just below the canopy when the aim is to maximise song propagation distances. Altogether, the presence of foliage greatly affects the potential for vocal information transfer in great tits and requires behavioural and/or perceptual adjustment of the communicating individuals to counteract or reduce the impact of foliage on signal degradation.


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