Breeding density, not life history, predicts interpopulation differences in territorial aggression in a passerine bird
Interpopulation variation in territorial aggression can reflect differences in life history or competitive environments. Life history theory predicts that males with more opportunities for future reproduction should avoid risk-taking behaviour to minimize the cost of current reproduction, whereas competitive environments should favour higher aggression to defend limited resources. Additionally, male aggression can be modulated by familiarity with competitors to be either lower (dear enemies) or higher (nasty neighbours) towards neighbours. We conducted a territory intrusion experiment using neighbour–stranger songs to examine how territorial aggression differed in two populations of orange-crowned warblers, Oreothlypis celata, breeding in California and Alaska. The California population breeds at very high densities and has a higher annual survival relative to the Alaska population, which breeds at significantly lower densities and has a lower annual survival rate. We found that California males showed higher amounts of territorial aggression in response to simulated territory intrusions than did Alaska males, supporting the hypothesis that competitive environments, as indicated by breeding density, rather than life history, shape geographical variation in levels of aggression. Both populations discriminated between song stimuli of neighbours and strangers, but California males responded more strongly towards neighbours, whereas Alaska males responded more strongly towards strangers. We discuss these results in light of the mechanisms for overall aggression and neighbour–stranger discrimination. âº Interpopulation variation in territorial aggression can reflect differences in life history or competition. âº We simulated territory intrusion using song playback in two populations (CA and AK, U.S.A.) of orange-crowned warblers. âº The California population breeds at higher density and has higher annual survival than the Alaska population. âº Levels of aggression in response to simulated territory intrusions were higher in CA males than in AK males. âº Results suggest that competitiveness (breeding density) shapes geographical variation in aggression in this species.