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Reliable Information Content and Ontogenetic Shift in Begging Calls of Grey Warbler Nestlings


Michael G. Anderson, Ecology and Conservation Group, Institute for Natural Sciences, Massey University, Albany Campus, Private Bag 102-904, North Shore Mail Centre, Auckland, New, Zealand.


The most critical assumption of communication models regarding parent–offspring conflict is that food solicitation displays of genetic offspring are honest signals to elicit beneficial parental care. A critical requirement of honesty is the reliable change of perceivable aspects of begging calls with physiological needs. We experimentally tested whether and how the acoustic structure and begging call rate of individual Grey Warbler Gerygone igata nestlings change with hunger level and age. We also examined a rarely documented component of chick begging calls, namely the temporal dynamics of acoustic modulation after nestlings heard parental feeding calls. Begging call structure narrowed in frequency range and, surprisingly, decreased in amplitude as chick hunger levels increased. We also found that begging calls changed with chick age, with the frequency increasing and the duration decreasing for older chicks. These results indicate that the acoustic properties of nestling Grey Warbler begging calls are complex and may be used to signal several aspects of nestling traits, including hunger level and age (or size, a correlate of age). Overall, begging calls of Grey Warbler chicks appear to be honest, implying that parents are likely to benefit from relying on the acoustic features of their progeny’s calls which predict chick need. Our results have important implications regarding the reliability and information content of nestling solicitation signals for the brood parasite shining cuckoo Chrysococcyx lucidus exploiting Grey Warbler parental care, in that these begging-call mimetic specialist cuckoos might also need to match closely the dynamics of acoustic features of their host chicks’ calls.

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