Heterospecific alarm-call recognition in two warbler hosts of common cuckoos

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2019
Authors:Yu, Lu, Sun, Liang, Wang, Møller
Keywords:alarm call, Brood parasitism, Heterospecific recognition, playback

Species facing similar selection pressures should recognize heterospecific alarm signals. However, no study has so far examined heterospecific alarm-call recognition in response to parasitism by cuckoos. In this study, we tested whether two sympatric host species of the common cuckoo Cuculus canorus, Oriental reed warbler Acrocephalus orientalis (ORW, main host), and black-browed reed warbler Acrocephalus bistrigiceps (BRW, rare host), could recognize each other’s alarm calls in response to cuckoos. Dummies of common cuckoo (parasite) and Eurasian sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus (predator) were used to induce and record alarm calls of the two warbler species, respectively. In the conspecific alarm-call playback experiments, ORW responded more strongly to cuckoo alarm calls than to sparrowhawk alarm calls, while BRW responded less strongly to cuckoo alarm calls than to sparrowhawk alarm calls. In the heterospecific alarm-call playback experiments, both ORW and BRW responded less strongly to cuckoo alarm calls than sparrowhawk alarm calls. BRW seemed to learn the association between parasite-related alarm calls of the ORW and the cuckoo by observing the process of ORW attacking cuckoos. In contrast, alarm calls of BRW to cuckoos were rarely recorded in most cases. BRW with low parasite pressure still developed recognition of heterospecific parasite-related alarm call. Unintended receivers in the same community should recognize heterospecific alarm calls precisely to extract valuable information.

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Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith