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Dominance and geographic information contained within black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) song

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In songbirds, male song is an acoustic signal used to attract mates and defend territories. Typically, song is an acoustically complex signal; however, the fee-bee song of the black-capped chickadee is relatively simple. Despite this relative simplicity, two previous studies (Christie et al., 2004b; Hoeschele et al., 2010) found acoustic features within the fee-bee song that contain information regarding an individual’s dominance rank; however each of these studies reported a different dominance-related acoustic cue. Specifically, the relative amplitude of the two notes differed between the songs of dominant and subordinate males from northern British Columbia, while the interval pitch ratio differed between the songs of dominant and subordinate males from eastern Ontario. In the current study, we examined six acoustic features within songs from both of the chickadee populations (northern British Columbia and eastern Ontario) examined in these previous studies and used bioacoustic analyses and discriminant function analyses to determine whether there is a consistent dominance-related acoustic cue across both, or in each of these populations. Consistent with the previous findings, the current results indicate that relative amplitude differs based on dominance status in the songs from British Columbia; however, our results failed to reach significance with songs from Ontario. These results suggest that acoustic cues that signal a male’s dominance in this species vary with geographic location. Furthermore, examining songs from these two locations and one additional location in northern British Columbia, we found that discriminant function analyses could correctly classify songs based on geographic location. Considering the broad extent of the species’ range, black-capped chickadee song is considered relatively invariant; however, our results suggest that there is geographic variation in songs, although the differences are subtle compared to geographic song variation in other species.

Affiliations: 1: aDepartment of Psychology, University of Alberta, P217 Biological Sciences Building, Edmonton, AB, Canada T6G 2E9; 2: bDepartment of Biological Sciences, University of Windsor, 401 Sunset Avenue, Windsor, ON, Canada N9B 3P4; 3: cNatural Resources and Environmental Studies, University of Northern British Columbia, 3333 University Way, Prince George, BC, Canada V2N 4Z9; 4: dDepartment of Biology, Queen’s University, Biosciences Complex, 116 Barrie Street, Kingston, ON, Canada K7L 3N6


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