The predictive value of trill performance in a large repertoire songbird, the nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos
Philipp Sprau, Tobias Roth, Valentin Amrhein, Marc Naguib
In animal communication, elaborate signals have been shown to be under sexual selection and often to reliably indicate a signaler's quality, condition, or motivation. For instance, the performance of physically challenging signals such as trills – i.e. rapidly repeated elements of broad frequency bandwidth – is considered to reflect signaler quality. Nightingales Luscinia megarhynchos are renowned for their outstanding song repertoire sizes, and most songs include a variety of complex trills. In the present study, we examined whether performance of trills can reliably reflect male quality. We show that vocal performance of trills predicts the age of a male. Older males sang trills that were closer to the performance limit than did younger males. Moreover, males with narrower beaks sang more consistent trills than did males with wider beaks. Vocal performance of trills, however, did not significantly predict other measures of biometric quality such as body size or body condition of the males. The findings suggest that receivers could benefit from the predictive value of physically demanding song traits in assessing age as an important quality component of potential mates or rivals. Particularly in species with high singing versatility, signaler assessment based on readily assessable structures may be adaptive, as this will allow receivers to quickly gather relevant information about the singer without attending to the full song repertoire.