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Barn owls do not interrupt their siblings
Animals communicate with conspecifics to resolve conflicts over how resources are shared. Since signals reflect individuals' resource-holding potential and motivation to compete, it is crucial that opponents efficiently transmit and receive information to adjust investment optimally in competitive interactions. Acoustic communication is particularly flexible as it can be quickly modulated according to background noise and audience. Diverse mechanisms have evolved to minimize acoustic signal interference, one being the avoidance of signal overlap by adjusting the timing of call production to alternate calls with those of competitors. However, the occurrence and function of overlap avoidance in the resolution of competition among relatives have barely been studied. Using young barn owl siblings, Tyto alba, which vocally negotiate over who will have priority access to food provided by parents, we investigated the extent to which nestlings avoid calling simultaneously and the function of this behaviour. We found that nestlings overlapped both their live siblings' calls and experimentally broadcast calls at least five times less often than expected at random. Furthermore, a focal nestling engaged more intensely in vocal negotiation when competing with nestmates that called simultaneously compared to those that did not overlap their respective calls. This suggests that barn owl nestlings avoid calling simultaneously, as overlapped calls are less efficient at deterring siblings from competing. Overlap avoidance reduces signal interference and, as a consequence, would improve the efficiency of communication among kin.
animal communication, barn owl, overlap, sibling negotiation, signal interference, Tyto alba
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