Contextual flexibility in the vocal repertoire of an Amazon parrot

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Background: Understanding the role of avian vocal communication in social organisation requires knowledge of the vocal repertoire used to convey information. Parrots use acoustic signals in a variety of social contexts, but no studies have evaluated cross-functional use of acoustic signals by parrots, or whether these conform to signal design rules for different behavioural contexts. We statistically characterised the vocal repertoire of 61 free-living Lilac-crowned Amazons (Amazona finschi) in nine behavioural contexts (nesting, threat, alarm, foraging, perched, take-off, flight, landing, and food soliciting). We aimed to determine whether parrots demonstrated contextual flexibility in their vocal repertoire, and whether these acoustic signals follow design rules that could maximise communication. Results: The Lilac-crowned Amazon had a diverse vocal repertoire of 101 note-types emitted at least twice, 58 of which were emitted ≥5 times. Threat and nesting contexts had the greatest variety and proportion of exclusive note-types, although the most common note-types were emitted in all behavioural contexts but with differing proportional contribution. Behavioural context significantly explained variation in acoustic features, where threat and nesting contexts had the highest mean frequencies and broad bandwidths, and alarm signals had a high emission rate of 3.6 notes/s. Three Principal Components explained 72.03 % of the variation in temporal and spectral characteristics of notes. Permutated Discriminant Function Analysis using these Principal Components demonstrated that 28 note-types (emitted by >1 individual) could be correctly classified and significantly discriminated from a random model. Conclusions: Acoustic features of Lilac-crowned Amazon vocalisations in specific behavioural contexts conformed to signal design rules. Lilac-crowned Amazons modified the emission rate and proportional contribution of note-types used in each context, suggesting the use of graded and combinatorial variation to encode information. We propose that evaluation of vocal repertoires based on note-types would reflect the true extent of a species' vocal flexibility, and the potential for combinatorial structures in parrot acoustic signals.




Montes-Medina, A. C., Salinas-Melgoza, A., & Renton, K. (2016). Contextual flexibility in the vocal repertoire of an Amazon parrot. Frontiers in Zoology, 13(1).

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