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Song as a signal to negotiate a sexual conflict?

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image of Animal Biology

Sexual conflict occurs when the optimal solution regarding e.g. a life history trait differs between co-operating individuals of different sex. When deciding a conflict is not instantaneous, some form of negotiation can be expected to evolve. In great tits, Parus major, a sexual conflict exists over the number of clutches that are reared, because the fitness costs of a second clutch are greater for females. A conflict is also likely to exist over investment in the first brood - each parent benefiting from a greater investment by the partner. Male great tits sing when rearing the first brood, and if acoustic signals play a role in the negotiation of a sexual conflict, a positive association between male song rate and maternal investment is predicted. In agreement with this hypothesis, maternal effort (in kJ/day) relative to paternal effort was positively correlated with male song rate. Furthermore, females were more likely to start a second clutch when their male had a high song rate, and high song rate was associated with shorter inter-clutch intervals. Song rate was higher when brood size was experimentally reduced and, independent of brood size manipulation, males with high song rate produced higher quality fledglings. These results indicate that song rate reflects the males' state, suggesting it may function as a handicap signal. Although song rate seems too low (<4% of time) for honesty to be maintained by production costs alone, signalling costs may be amplified by the fact that song appears restricted to the time when the male and female are both near the nest. To achieve a high song rate, the male may have to spend a large amount of time near the nest, thereby seriously restricting time available for other activities.


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