When a single female is nearby, female antbirds will sing over the songs of their male partners in an apparent attempt to keep their messages from getting through, according to a new report published online on March 12th in Current Biology. Males respond to that interruption by singing a different tune.
The findings offer the first evidence that such “signal jamming” and “jamming avoidance” occur between mates, according to the researchers.
“In human terms, signal jamming is most commonly associated with attempts to scramble information in radio, radar, or cell phone signals,” said Joseph Tobias of the University of Oxford. “The females in our study try to do a similar thing with the songs of their partner, but the overall situation is more analogous to a wife continually interrupting her husband to stop him from flirting with a single woman.”
Social animals produce a wide range of communal displays, many of them remarkable feats of complex coordination, the researchers said. One example is the duets sung by pairs of Peruvian warbling antbirds. So far, scientists have disagreed about how temporal coordination between displaying individuals evolved, some seeing it as a cooperative signal of coalition quality, others as a selfish means to avoid signal overlap.
According to the research team, the new study provides the first evidence that the avoidance of signal overlap is sufficient to explain the coordination and complexity of communal signals.
Another interesting example of a simple rule leading to complexity.