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Individually specific acoustic signals in birds are used in territorial defence. These signals enable a reduction of energy expenditure due to individual recognition between rivals and the associated threat levels. Mechanisms and acoustic cues used for individual recognition seem to be versatile among birds. However, most studies so far have been conducted on oscine species. Few studies have focused on exactly how the potential for individual recognition changes with distance between the signaller and receiver. We studied a nocturnally active rail species, the corncrake, which utters a seemingly simple disyllabic call. The inner call structure, however, is quite complex and expressed as intervals between maximal amplitude peaks, called pulse-to-pulse durations (PPD). The inner call is characterized by very low within-individual variation and high between-individuals difference. These variations and differences enable recognition of individuals. We conducted our propagation experiments in a natural corncrake habitat. We found that PPD was not affected by transmission. Correct individual identification was possible regardless of the distance and position of the microphone which was above the ground. The results for sounds from the extreme distance propagated through the vegetation compared to those transmitted above the vegetation were even better. These results support the idea that PPD structure has evolved under selection favouring individual recognition in a species signalling at night, in a dense environment and close to the ground. 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Paweł Ręk, Tomasz S Osiejuk. No male identity information loss during call propagation through dense vegetation: the case of the corncrake. Behavioural processes. 2011 Mar;86(3):323-8

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PMID: 21295119

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