Individual Distinctiveness in the Fine Structural Features and Repertoire Characteristics of the Songs of White-eared Ground-sparrows

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Abstract

Communication between social animals is often more effective when signals facilitate individual recognition. Two critical requirements for individual recognition are the occurrence of characteristics that are unique to each individual, and the consistency of these characteristics through time. In some animals, characteristics of acoustic signals are known to vary over time due to changes in a variety of factors, including physiological and environmental features. Such temporal variation requires careful evaluation when exploring the individual distinctiveness of animal signals. In this study, we evaluate individual distinctiveness in the songs of male white-eared ground-sparrows Melozone leucotis and the persistence of distinctive characteristics over time. We collected focal recordings from populations of banded ground-sparrows during two consecutive breeding seasons, including multiple recording sessions within each breeding season. We evaluated individual distinctiveness in fine structural acoustic features of songs. We also extended our analysis to repertoire characteristics, focusing on whether the relative frequency of song type use may provide cues to individual identity. We found that each male white-eared ground-sparrow sang individually distinctive songs, although their fine structural features varied between recording sessions. We found the frequency with which males sang different song types was also individually distinctive, and this feature varied little between recording sessions. Receivers may be able to use these distinctive characteristics to differentiate individuals over extended time periods; this may be especially important for species that engage in long-term social interactions, such as tropical birds that defend territories against rival conspecific animals throughout the year.

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