Learned kin recognition cues in a social bird

Abstract

In many cooperatively breeding birds, kin selection has an important role in the evolution and maintenance of social behaviour, and ‘helpers’ can maximize indirect fitness gains by preferentially allocating care to close relatives1,2,3. Although there is evidence for kin-biased helping behaviour in several species1,4,5, the mechanism of kin recognition underlying this behaviour is poorly understood2. Vocalizations are the most commonly used cues in avian recognition systems6,7, but the effectiveness of vocal signals as reliable recognition cues must depend on how they are acquired6,7,8,9. However, there have been no experimental studies of the development of vocal recognition cues in cooperative birds; indeed, the ontogeny of all bird vocalizations other than song is poorly known in any species10,11,12. Here, we show that cooperatively breeding long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus) can discriminate between kin and non-kin according to the individual-specific characteristics of contact calls, and show experimentally that individuals learn these calls from provisioning adults during the nestling period. Finally, we show that the pattern of cooperative behaviour in this species is consistent with the use of recognition cues learned through association.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Responses to playback trials (n = 8) using the churr calls of kin and non-kin with maximum and minimum frequency unmanipulated (Unmanip.) and manipulated (Manip.).
Figure 2: Call similarity between different groups of siblings.
Figure 3: Call similarity between recruits from cross-fostered broods and their true and foster parents.

References

  1. 1

    Dickinson, J. L. & Hatchwell, B. J. in Ecology and Evolution of Cooperative Breeding in Birds (eds Koenig, W. D. & Dickinson, J. L.) 48–66 (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2004)

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Komdeur, J. & Hatchwell, B. J. Kin recognition: function and mechanism in avian societies. Trends Ecol. Evol. 14, 237–241 (1999)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Stacey, P. B. & Koenig, W. D. (eds) Cooperative Breeding in Birds: Long-term Studies of Ecology and Evolution (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1990)

  4. 4

    Emlen, S. T. & Wrege, P. H. The role of kinship in helping decisions among white-fronted bee-eaters. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 23, 305–316 (1988)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Komdeur, J. The effect of kinship on helping in the cooperative breeding Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis). Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 256, 47–52 (1994)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Beecher, M. D. Kin recognition in birds. Behav. Genet. 18, 465–482 (1988)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Halpin, Z. T. in Kin Recognition (ed. Hepper, P. G.) 220–258 (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1991)

    Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Sherman, P. W., Reeve, H. K. & Pfennig, D. W. in Behavioural Ecology: An Evolutionary Approach 4th edn (eds Krebs, J. R. & Davies, N. B.) 69–96 (Blackwell, Oxford, 1997)

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Waldman, B. Mechanisms of kin recognition. J. Theor. Biol. 128, 159–185 (1987)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Hughes, M., Nowicki, S. & Lohr, B. Call learning in black-capped chickadees (Parus atricapillus): the role of experience in the development of ‘chick-a-dee’ calls. Ethology 104, 232–249 (1998)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Marler, P. & Mundinger, P. in The Ontogeny of Vertebrate Behavior (ed. Moltz, H.) 389–450 (Academic, New York, 1971)

    Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Baptista, L. F. in Ecology and Evolution of Acoustic Communication in Birds (eds Kroodsma, D. E. & Miller, E. H.) 39–60 (Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, 1996)

    Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Cramp, S. & Perrins, C. M. (eds) The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol VII (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 1993)

  14. 14

    Hatchwell, B. J. et al. Helpers increase long-term but not short-term productivity in cooperatively breeding long-tailed tits. Behav. Ecol. 15, 1–10 (2004)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    MacColl, A. D. C. & Hatchwell, B. J. Temporal variation in fitness payoffs promotes cooperative breeding in long-tailed tits Aegithalos caudatus . Am. Nat. 160, 186–194 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Russell, A. F. & Hatchwell, B. J. Experimental evidence for kin-biased helping in a cooperatively breeding vertebrate. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 268, 2169–2174 (2001)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    MacColl, A. D. C. & Hatchwell, B. J. Determinants of lifetime fitness in a cooperative breeder, the long-tailed tit Aegithalos caudatus . J. Anim. Ecol. 73, 1137–1148 (2004)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Hatchwell, B. J., Ross, D. J., Fowlie, M. K. & McGowan, A. Kin discrimination in cooperatively breeding long-tailed tits. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 268, 885–890 (2001)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Gaston, A. J. The ecology and behaviour of the long-tailed tit. Ibis (Lond.) 115, 330–351 (1973)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Sharp, S. P. Kin Recognition in the Cooperative Breeding System of the Long-Tailed Tit, Aegithalos caudatus. Thesis, Univ. Sheffield (2003)

    Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Sharp, S. P. & Hatchwell, B. J. Individuality in the contact calls of cooperatively breeding long-tailed tits. Behaviour (in the press)

  22. 22

    Brittan-Powell, E. F., Dooling, R. J. & Farabaugh, S. M. Vocal development in budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus): contact calls. J. Comp. Psychol. 111, 226–241 (1997)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Price, J. J. Family- and sex-specific vocal traditions in a cooperatively breeding songbird. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 265, 497–502 (1998)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Hatchwell, B. J., Ross, D. J., Chaline, N., Fowlie, M. K. & Burke, T. Parentage in the cooperative breeding system of long-tailed tits, Aegithalos caudatus . Anim. Behav. 64, 55–63 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Hatchwell, B. J., Anderson, C., Ross, D. J., Fowlie, M. K. & Blackwell, P. G. Social organization of cooperatively breeding long-tailed tits: kinship and spatial dynamics. J. Anim. Ecol. 70, 820–830 (2001)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Komdeur, J., Richardson, D. S. & Burke, T. Experimental evidence that kin discrimination in the Seychelles warbler is based on association and not on genetic relatedness. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 271, 963–969 (2004)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    MacColl, A. D. C. & Hatchwell, B. J. Sharing of caring: nestling provisioning behaviour of long-tailed tit, Aegithalos caudatus, parents and helpers. Anim. Behav. 66, 955–964 (2003)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Siegel, S. & Castellan, N. J. Nonparametric Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences (McGraw-Hill, Boston, 1988)

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank T.R. Birkhead, N.B. Davies, J. Slate and A.P. Beckerman for their advice; A.D.C. MacColl, D.J. Ross, M.K. Fowlie and A.F. Russell for their assistance with fieldwork; and Doncaster and Sheffield City Councils, Yorkshire Water and Hallam Golf Club for allowing us to watch birds on their land. This research was supported by NERC and the University of Sheffield.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Stuart P. Sharp.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Sharp, S., McGowan, A., Wood, M. et al. Learned kin recognition cues in a social bird. Nature 434, 1127–1130 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature03522

Download citation

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter for a daily update on COVID-19 science.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing