Female birds ‘jam’ their mates’ flirtatious songs

March 13th, 2009 - 4:23 pm ICT by IANS  

London, March 13 (IANS) Female antbirds will sing over the songs of their male partners to jam their messages from getting through to solitary female that may be around, a new study has found. Males respond by singing a different tune.
The findings offer the first evidence that such “signal jamming” and “jamming avoidance” occur between mates, said researchers.

“Signal jamming is most commonly associated with attempts to scramble information in radio, radar, or cell phone signals,” said Joseph Tobias of University of Oxford.

“The females in our study try to do a similar thing with the songs of their partner, but the overall situation is more analogous to a wife continually interrupting her husband to stop him from flirting with a single woman,” he added.

Social animals produce a wide range of communal displays, many of them remarkable feats of complex coordination, the researchers said. One example is the duets sung by pairs of Peruvian warbling antbirds.

So far, scientists have disagreed about how coordination between displaying individuals evolved, some seeing it as a cooperative signal of coalition quality, others as a selfish means to avoid signal overlap.

The new study provides the first evidence that the avoidance of signal overlap is sufficient to explain the coordination and complexity of communal signals.

In a series of playback experiments, the team found that resident pairs of antbirds sing coordinated duets when responding to rival pairs. But under other circumstances, cooperation breaks down, leading to more complex songs.

Specifically, they report that females respond to unpaired sexual rivals by jamming the signals of their own mates, who in turn adjust their signals to avoid the interference.

Tobias said the females’ attempts to jam their partners’ songs are presumably intended to make the males less attractive, or to make it clear that they are “taken.”

He added that the results in antbirds may have broad implications for understanding how communal signals have developed over evolutionary time in many animals, and perhaps even in humans, said an Oxford release.

The study was published online in Thursday’s edition of Current Biology.

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