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Audience drives male songbird response to partner's voice


According to the social intelligence hypothesis, social context represents an important force driving the selection of animal cognitive abilities such as the capacity to estimate the nature of the social relationships between other individuals1,2,3,4. Despite this importance, the influence of this force has been assessed only in primates and never in other animals showing social interactions5,6,7. In this way, avian communication generally takes place in a network of signallers and receivers, which represents an audience altering individual signalling behaviours8,9. Indeed, vocal amplitude10 and repertoire11 are known to be socially regulated and the attitude towards the opposite sex may change depending on the audience8,12,13. This ‘audience effect’8,14,15,16 provides support for the reality of social awareness in some bird species. However no evidence has yet been found to suggest that birds are able to estimate the characteristics of the social relationships between group-mates. Here we show that the male of a gregarious songbird species—the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata)—pays attention to the mating status of conspecific pairs, and uses this information to control its behaviour towards its female partner.

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Figure 1: Acoustic structure of the distance call of the female zebra finch.
Figure 2: Discriminant analysis on the 17 acoustic parameters of the female call.
Figure 3: Response of male to female voices as a function of the mating status of the audience.


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This research was supported by the Interdisciplinary Program “Cognition and Information Processing” of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). C.V. is supported by the French Ministry of National Education. We thank C. Bouchut, M. Rabearinaivo and S. Tisseur for their help during the work, L. Bloomfield for improving the English, and I. Charrier for her advice on previous drafts of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Nicolas Mathevon.

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Vignal, C., Mathevon, N. & Mottin, S. Audience drives male songbird response to partner's voice. Nature 430, 448–451 (2004).

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