Timothy F Wright
Animal Cognition 15(4):647-656, 2012
Complex acoustic signals in many animal species are characterized by a syntax that governs how different notes are combined, but the importance of syntax to the communicative function of signals is not well understood. Mated pairs of yellow-naped amazons, Amazona auropalliata, ...MORE ⇓
Complex acoustic signals in many animal species are characterized by a syntax that governs how different notes are combined, but the importance of syntax to the communicative function of signals is not well understood. Mated pairs of yellow-naped amazons, Amazona auropalliata, produce coordinated vocal duets that are used for territory maintenance and defense. These duets follow rules that specify the ordering of notes within duets, such as a strict alternation of sex-specific notes and a defined progression of note types through each duet. These syntactical rules may function to define sex-specific roles, improve coordination, and allow individuals to combine calls into meaningful sequences. As a first step toward understanding the functional significance of syntax, we conducted two separate audio playback experiments in which we presented nesting pairs with normal duets and duets with broken syntax (i.e., one of the syntactic rules was broken). In Experiment One, we reversed the order of female and male notes within note pairs while retaining the typical progression of note types through a duet. In Experiment Two we reversed the order of note types across a whole duet while retaining the typical female–male ordering within note pairs. We hypothesized that duets with broken syntax would be less-effective signals than duets with normal syntax and predicted that pairs would respond less to broken syntax than to normal duets. Contrary to predictions, we did not observe differences in response between treatments for any variables except latency to approach the speaker. After we combined data across experiments post hoc, we observed longer latencies to approach the speakers after playbacks of broken syntax duets, suggesting that pairs could differentiate between playbacks. These responses suggest that breaking one rule of duet syntax at a time does not result in detectable loss of signal efficacy in the context of territorial intrusions.