The fitness consequences of honesty: under-signalers have a survival advantage in song sparrows
How honest or reliable signaling can evolve and be maintained has been a major question in evolutionary biology. The question is especially puzzling for a particular class of signals used in aggressive interactions: threat signals. Here we report a study on song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) in which we assayed males with playbacks on their territories to quantify their aggressiveness (flights and close proximity) and aggressive signaling levels (rates of soft song, a close range signal reliably
... nge signal reliably predicting attack) and asked whether these traits affect individuals' survival on territory. We found that the effect of aggressive signaling via soft song interacted with aggressive behaviors such that there was a negative correlational selection: among males with low aggression, those males that signaled at higher levels (over-signalers) had higher survival whereas among males with high aggression those that signaled at low levels (under-signalers) survived longer. In other words, males who deviate from reliable signaling have a survival advantage. These results, along with previous research that suggested most of the deviation from reliable signaling in this system is in the form of under-signaling (high aggression males signaling at low levels) pose a puzzle for future research on how this reliable signaling system is maintained.