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The sensory substrate of multimodal communication in brown-headed cowbirds: are females sensory ‘specialists’ or ‘generalists’? A Neuroethology, sensory, neural, and behavioral physiology

Ronald, Kelly L., Sesterhenn, Timothy M., Fernandez-Juricic, Esteban, Lucas, Jeffrey R.
Journal of comparative physiology 2017 v.203 no.11 pp. 935-943
Molothrus ater, animals, courtship, females, males, vocalization
Many animals communicate with multimodal signals. While we have an understanding of multimodal signal production, we know relatively less about receiver filtering of multimodal signals and whether filtering capacity in one modality influences filtering in a second modality. Most multimodal signals contain a temporal element, such as change in frequency over time or a dynamic visual display. We examined the relationship in temporal resolution across two modalities to test whether females are (1) sensory ‘specialists’, where a trade-off exists between the sensory modalities, (2) sensory ‘generalists’, where a positive relationship exists between the modalities, or (3) whether no relationship exists between modalities. We used female brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) to investigate this question as males court females with an audiovisual display. We found a significant positive relationship between female visual and auditory temporal resolution, suggesting that females are sensory ‘generalists’. Females appear to resolve information well across multiple modalities, which may select for males that signal their quality similarly across modalities.