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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

An acoustic postconflict display in the duetting tropical boubou (Laniarius aethiopicus): a signal of victory?

T Ulmar Grafe1* and Johannes H Bitz12

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology, University of Würzburg, Biozentrum, Am Hubland, 97074 Würzburg, Germany

2 Department of Ethology and Ecology, German Primate Center, Kellnerweg 4, 37077 Göttingen, Germany

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BMC Ecology 2004, 4:1  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-4-1

Published: 28 January 2004

Abstract

Background

In many species of birds, pair bonded males and females precisely co-ordinate their vocalisations to form duets. Duetting behaviour, although still somewhat of an enigma, is thought to function primarily in territorial defence and mate guarding. We identify an additional function of duetting in an afrotropical bird, the tropical boubou (Laniarius aethiopicus), that uses one duet type as a postconflict display probably to advertise victory to other boubous.

Results

We simulated intrusions into boubou territories in the field in Ivory Coast, West Africa using playbacks of four different types of boubou duets to test the use of the presumptive acoustic victory display before, during and after playbacks. These staged encounters resulted in either retreat of the focal birds during playback or continued presence accompanied by vocal displays after playback had ceased. Losers of encounters never sung after retreating whereas 11 out of 18 pairs sung the presumptive victory duet after the encounter. Analysis revealed that the presumptive victory display was sung significantly more often after than before or during the playback treatment.

Conclusion

We conclude that, most likely, the investigated duet type is a postconflict victory display – a novel function of duets. Furthermore the duet is a rare example among birds of a context-specific song. The conspicuousness of the display suggests that it is directed not only to losers of an agonistic encounter but also to other pairs of birds in neighbouring territories.