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Keywords:

  • anthropogenic noise;
  • great tit;
  • intra-pair communication;
  • Parus major;
  • signalling strategies;
  • spatial ecology

Summary

1. Anthropogenic noise can affect intra-pair communication and therefore interfere with reproductive success. However, many animals have various signal strategies to cope with noise, although it is unclear whether they rely on direct auditory feedback from their own perception of noise or signal-to-noise level or on indirect social feedback from receivers.

2. We studied the role of social feedback on male great tit (Parus major) song adjustment by exclusively exposing females to artificial traffic noise inside their nest box.

3. We found a delay in female response latencies to male song in the noisy condition compared to the control condition on the first day of noise exposure. Males from the noise treatment group, not directly exposed to noise themselves, sang closer to the nest box within 3 days after the start of exposure.

4. The male's closer proximity to the nest box most likely led to the observed higher song amplitudes at the noisy nest boxes compared to quiet control nest boxes, and explains why the inside signal-to-noise ratios were restored to equal levels between treatment and control nest boxes after several days of exposure.

5. The initial difference between treatment groups in female response latencies at the start of exposure also disappeared accordingly.

6. Our results strongly suggest an active role for female birds in steering male song behaviour under noisy conditions. Males did not receive direct exposure during intra-pair communication, but adjusted their behaviour in the predicted direction. These data are important to understand the mechanisms related to communication in noise and reveal the critical role of ecology in shaping animal interactions.