Making sense of all that noise
A basic tenet of most cooperative hypotheses is that an individual can maximise its benefits associated with helping others by differentiating between groups of potential recipients. This might be separating kin from non-kin under kin selection, or those that have provided aid to the focal individual previously in a society maintained by reciprocal acts of cooperation. To some degree, all hypotheses proposed to explain cooperation require individuals to exhibit some level of discrimination.
Using perhaps Australia's most vociferous bird, the Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala) and a novel adaptation of a technique normally used to test human infants, the habituation-dishabituation paradigm, researchers within the ABEL have been demonstrated that not only do individuals have their own unique vocal signature, but other Noisy Miners are able to use those small differences in voice characteristics to differentiate between the alarm calls of different birds. Remarkably, they can do this even when hearing the calls of completely novel individuals!
For more information, contact Prof. Paul McDonald