Duets in Yellow-Naped Amazons: Variation in Syntax, Note Composition and Phonology at Different Levels of Social Organization


Christine R. Dahlin, Department of Biology, MSC 3AF, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM 88003 0001, USA. E-mail: crdahlin@nmsu.edu


Complex vocal signals composed of multiple notes are used by many species. Such signals may vary in a number of features such as the rules that govern note order and timing (syntax), the relative number and types of different notes (note composition), and the acoustic structure of notes (phonology). Previous research examining male song in songbirds typically has shown greater conservation of syntax than phonology. Here we investigated whether these patterns of variation are also found in the duets of parrots. We examined geographic variation in the pair duets of yellow-naped amazons, Amazona auropalliata, at five sites within one vocal dialect. We also examined variation at several levels of social organization, including within pairs, among pairs and among sites, to assess where variability was greatest. Variation was highest at the within-pair level, although variation was also present at all other levels and for all of the duet factors. We hypothesize that variation at the among-site level allows duets to indicate site membership, while variation at the within-pair level allows pairs to change their duet to match their current social or physical environment. Syntax and phonology are also more conserved than note composition for all levels of social organization. This pattern may result because note composition is less important in duet function than syntax or phonology, or because development of syntax and phonology is more heavily influenced by genetic templates.