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Wild Birds Use an Ordering Rule to Decode Novel Call Sequences
Kyoto Univ, Ctr Ecol Res, 2-509-3 Hirano, Otsu, Shiga 5202113, Japan.;SOKENDAI, Dept Evolutionary Studies Biosyst, Hayama, Kanagawa 2400193, Japan..
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Biology, Department of Ecology and Genetics, Animal ecology.
Univ Zurich, Dept Anthropol, Winterthurerstr 190, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland.;Jagiellonian Univ, Inst Environm Sci, Gronostajowa 7, PL-30387 Krakow, Poland..
2017 (English)In: Current Biology, ISSN 0960-9822, E-ISSN 1879-0445, Vol. 27, no 15, 2331-2336.e3 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The generative power of human language depends on grammatical rules, such as word ordering, that allow us to produce and comprehend even novel combinations of words [1-3]. Several species of birds and mammals produce sequences of calls [4-6], and, like words in human sentences, their order may influence receiver responses [7]. However, it is unknown whether animals use call ordering to extract meaning from truly novel sequences. Here, we use a novel experimental approach to test this in a wild bird species, the Japanese tit (Parus minor). Japanese tits are attracted to mobbing a predator when they hear conspecific alert and recruitment calls ordered as alert-recruitment sequences [7]. They also approach in response to recruitment calls of heterospecific individuals in mixed-species flocks [8, 9]. Using experimental playbacks, we assess their responses to artificial sequences in which their own alert calls are combined into different orderings with heterospecific recruitment calls. We find that Japanese tits respond similarly to mixed-species alert-recruitment call sequences and to their own alert-recruitment sequences. Importantly, however, tits rarely respond to mixed-species sequences in which the call order is reversed. Thus, Japanese tits extract a compound meaning from novel call sequences using an ordering rule. These results demonstrate a new parallel between animal communication systems and human language, opening new avenues for exploring the evolution of ordering rules and compositionality in animal vocal sequences.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
CELL PRESS , 2017. Vol. 27, no 15, 2331-2336.e3 p.
National Category
Zoology Ecology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-334045DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.06.031ISI: 000407034300028PubMedID: 28756952OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-334045DiVA: diva2:1158910
Available from: 2017-11-21 Created: 2017-11-21 Last updated: 2017-11-21Bibliographically approved

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Wheatcroft, David

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