Prenatal imitative learning is an emerging research area in both human and non-human animals. Previous studies in Superb Fairywrens (Malurus cyaneus) showed that mothers are vocal tutors to their embryos and that better imitation of maternal calls yields more parental provisions after hatching. To begin to test if such adaptive behavior is widespread amongst Australasian wrens in Maluridae, we investigated maternal in-nest calling patterns in Red-backed Fairywrens (Malurus melanocephalus). We first compared the structure of maternal and nestling call elements. Next, we examined how in-nest calling behavior varied with parental behaviors and ecological contexts (i.e. prevalence of brood parasitism and nest predation). All Red-backed Fairywren females called to their eggs during incubation and they continued to do so for several days after hatching at a lower rate. Embryos that received more calls per hour during the incubation period (but not the nestling period) developed into hatchlings with higher call element similarity between mother and young. Female call rate was mostly independent of nest predation but in years with more interspecific brood parasitism, nestling element similarity was greater and female call rates tended to be higher. Playback experiments showed that broods with higher element similarity to their mother received more successful feeds. The potential for prenatal tutoring and imitative begging calls in 2 related fairywren taxa sets the stage for a full-scale comparative analysis of the evolution and function of these behaviors across Maluridae and in other vocal-learning lineages.
- parental investment
- vocal tutor