Provisioning calls of the cooperatively breeding bell miner Manorina melanophrys encode sufficient information for individual discrimination

Paul G. McDonald*, Catherine F. Heathcote, Michael F. Clarke, Jonathan Wright, Anahita J N Kazem

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    31 Citations (Scopus)


    Acoustically-mediated individual discrimination has been the focus of much investigation in ornithology. For cooperatively breeding species, strong selection pressure favouring individual recognition during acts of altruism is predicted under many of the most interesting hypotheses proposed to account for helping behaviour. We investigated differences in 157 calls given by 12 different individuals as they provisioned nestlings, including both breeding and helper bell miners Manorina melanophrys (Meliphagidae), a cooperatively breeding honeyeater endemic to south-eastern Australia. Individual differences were apparent in all 15 call parameters analysed, many with a high level of repeatability. Moreover, the information capacity of mew calls allows as many as 515 different signatures to exist in the system. As many parameters showed strong sex differences, separate discriminant functions were used to predict individual identity within each sex. Five parameters were used in a function that correctly identified over 90% of female calls in both a training (n=35) and test dataset (n=11) not used to generate the function. Among males, a separate function used six parameters to correctly assign individual identity in 89.3% (n=84; training) and 77.8% (n=27; test) of cases. Three original parameters, including spectral and spatial characteristics, were highly correlated with functions predicting identity in both sexes. The accuracy of functions was not influenced by a signaller's sex, breeding status, or by sampling period which was spread over as much as two breeding seasons within individuals. Significant potential therefore exists for bell miners to use these simple provisioning calls in individual discrimination. If this is the case, call information also has the potential to be used by receivers as predicted by signalling hypotheses proposed to account for cooperative helping behaviour, such as the pay-to-stay and social prestige hypotheses.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)113-121
    Number of pages9
    JournalJournal of Avian Biology
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2007


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