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Strategies of song adaptation to urban noise in the house finch: syllable pitch plasticity or differential syllable use?

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The influence of ambient noise in shaping birdsong attributes has received much attention lately. Recent work shows that some birds sing higher-pitched songs in noisy areas, which may allow them to avoid acoustic interference; yet it is not clear how this is achieved. Higher-pitched songs may be produced either by using the same syllable types in quiet and noisy areas, but singing them at a higher frequency in the latter (syllable pitch plasticity), or by using different syllable types in silent and in noisy circumstances (differential syllable use). Here we explored both strategies in the Mexico City population of house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), a species known to possess a repertoire of several hundreds of syllable types. Birds produced songs with higher minimum frequencies in noisy than in quiet areas. This was mostly due to the minimum frequency of some syllable types being higher in noisy areas than in quiet locations. Also, males modulated the minimum frequency of the same syllable type during momentary increases of noise. Our results can help explain the high success of house finches at colonizing urban areas, while providing evidence of syllable pitch plasticity.

Affiliations: 1: Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, A.P. 70-275, C.P. 04510, México D.F., México; 2: Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (CSIC), José Gutierrez Abascal 2, E-28006 Madrid, Spain, Madrid

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