Contestants use displays to signal their aggressive intent and settle disputes before they escalate. For birds, this is often in the form of song, which can vary in structural complexity. The role of song complexity in signalling aggressive intent has not been fully established, and its efficacy could be influenced by background noise levels. Using playback experiments, we found that in European robins, Erithacus rubecula, song complexity signalled sender aggression and affected receiver response. However, increased noise impacted the ability of contestants to adjust response based on opponent song complexity. These findings provide new evidence regarding the use of acoustic signal complexity for assessing opponent aggression and that noise can influence contest behaviour by interrupting this process, which could impose fitness consequences.
Kareklas, K., Wilson, J., Kunc, H. P., & Arnott, G. (2019). Signal complexity communicates aggressive intent during contests, but the process is disrupted by noise. Biology Letters, 15, . https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2018.0841