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Habitat Quality, Social Dominance and Dawn Chorus Song Output in Black-Capped Chickadees


Harry van Oort, Ecosystem Science and Management Program, University of Northern British Columbia, 3333 University Way, Prince George, BC, Canada V2N 4Z9.


Individuals that settle in poor habitats may reduce resource investments in various life history traits; for example, resources may be withheld from costly advertisement signals. There may be geographic variation in advertisement levels that correspond with habitat quality; however, this is poorly documented and it is unclear whether such habitat effects have consequences for the function of mate-choice signals within habitats. We examined song output of male black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) during the dawn chorus in two contrasting habitats (mature forest vs. young forest) known to differ in quality. Dominance rank is indicative of phenotypic quality in this species and was assessed during the preceding winter. We measured the song output of males participating in the dawn chorus during the nesting/egg laying period. Males living in young forest had reduced song output; however, a habitat–rank interaction term showed that dominant birds accounted for most of this difference. This suggests that signal reliability might be lost in poor habitats. We generate several hypotheses to explain these findings.

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