Neotropical wrens learn new duet rules as adults

Karla D. Rivera-Cáceres, Esmeralda Quirós-Guerrero, Marcelo Araya-Salas, William A. Searcy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Although song development in songbirds has been much studied as an analogue of language development in humans, the development of vocal interaction rules has been relatively neglected in both groups. Duetting avian species provide an ideal model to address the acquisition of interaction rules as duet structure involves time and pattern-specific relationships among the vocalizations from different individuals. In this study, we address the development of the most striking properties of duets: the specific answering rules that individuals use to link their own phrase types to those of their partners (duet codes) and precise temporal coordination. By performing two removal experiments in canebrake wrens (Cantorchilus zeledoni), we show that individuals use a fixed phrase repertoire to create new phrase pairings when they acquire a new partner. Furthermore, immediately after pairing, individuals perform duets with poor coordination and poor duet code adherence, but both aspects improve with time. These results indicate that individuals need a learning period to be able to perform well-coordinated duets that follow a consistent duet code. We conclude that both duet coordination and duet code adherence are honest indicators of pair-bond duration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20161819
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1843
StatePublished - Nov 30 2016


  • Canebrake wren
  • Duet code
  • Duet coordination
  • Duet ontogeny
  • Song learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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