CIE Spotlight: Vocal negotiation over parental care? Acoustic communication at the nest predicts partners’ incubation share

Mylene Mariette (Photo: Pat Scala)
Mylene Mariette (Photo: Pat Scala)

Title: Vocal negotiation over parental care? Acoustic communication at the nest predicts partners’ incubation share

Authors: Ingrid C. A. Boucaud, Mylene M. Mariette, Avelyne S. Villain and Clémentine Vignal

Source: Biological Journal of the Linnean Society (Available online: 13 NOV 2015)

Brief summary of the paper: In species with biparental care, individuals adjust their workload to that of their partner to either compensate or match its investment. Communication within a pair might be crucial for achieving this adjustment.

Zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata, form life-long monogamous pair bonds, in which partners are highly coordinated and both incubate the eggs. When relieving each other during incubation, partners perform a structured call duet at the nest. If this duet functions to coordinate incubation workload, disrupting the pair’s usual nest-relief pattern by delaying the male’s return to the nest should affect the structure of the duet.

Using domesticated birds breeding in a large aviary, we found that delaying the male’s return induced shorter duets with higher call rates. In addition, we tracked the location of individuals with a transponder at the nest and the feeder, and showed that these accelerated duets were associated with an increased haste of the partners to take turns incubating and foraging. Females also spent less time incubating during their subsequent shift, and females’ time off-nest was best predicted by their mate’s calling behaviour in the previous duet.

Taken together, these results suggest that duets may function as ‘vocal negotiation’ over parental care.

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