Males’ calls carry information about individual identity and morphological characteristics of the caller in burrowing petrels

Gémard, Charlène; Aubin, Thierry; Bonadonna, Francesco

12 October 2019

Acoustic communication in burrowing petrels has been poorly studied. However, as for many other bird species, acoustic communication seems to play an essential role in social interactions during the breeding season of these seabirds. Bachelor males call from their burrow, likely to attract females, but also when vocally challenged by other males. Calling in the breeding colony exposes petrels to high predation risks and thus it should provide an important benefit. The present study focuses on the informative content of males’ calls in the blue petrel (Halobaena caerulea) and the Antarctic prion (Pachyptila desolata), two monogamous petrel species producing a single egg per year. We tested the hypotheses that acoustic parameters of a male’s calls (i) reflect phenotypic characteristics, and (ii) bear an individual vocal signature. To do so, we first tested on both species the relationships between seven morphometric measurements and 11 acoustic parameters using multivariate analyses. Second, we performed a between-class analysis and calculated the Potential of Individuality Coding (i.e. the ratio between intra- and inter-individual variabilities) for acoustic parameters in both spectral and temporal domains. Results show acoustic parameters (especially energy quartiles, call duration, and syllable or phrase rate) reflect the caller’s body size, bill morphology and wing morphology in both species. Considering the seeming pertinence of wing morphology, we suggest wing area may be a more relevant trait to consider than wing length when studying soaring birds. The results support the idea that energy quartiles, phrase rate and call duration also code for individual identity. Information carried by males’ calls might play a role in social interactions, such as burrow defence (e.g. male-male competition, neighbour-stranger discrimination) and/or female mate choice.