Bird song and parasitesBird song and parasites
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Behavioural Ecology & Ecophysiology
Behavioral ecology and sociobiology. - Berlin
59(2005):2, p. 167-180
University of Antwerp
Bird song is a typical sexual trait that may have evolved at least partly to reflect health and vigor. However, the role of pathogens in modulating acoustic communication systems in birds is still less than clear as studies testing the relationship between parasites and song have provided inconsistent results both within and among species. It is often neglected that avian song is complex trait consisting of numerous and variable features with potentially different biological backgrounds. By using meta-analytic approaches to the available intraspecific evidence I demonstrate that different roles are applicable to song traits with different signal design, which could explain, to some extent, the inconsistency of results. I found that condition-dependent, performance-related traits are more closely related to immediate health status, whereas condition-independent features are more likely to be associated with intrinsically determined parasite resistance. Hence, parasitism may mediate the evolution of different acoustic features. Considering the signal function of songs, a communication system depends on the reaction of the receivers, but little is known about how mate choice and male-male competition are affected by parasite-mediated song production. This review of the literature thus suggests that receivers of songs may benefit by responding to these acoustic signals of health through the acquisition of resistance genes, paternal care of superior assistance, success in territory disputes, and the avoidance of directly transmitted parasites.