Social rules govern vocal competition in the barn owl
To resolve the share of limited resources, animals often compete through exchange of signals about their relative motivation to compete. When two competitors are similarly motivated, the resolution of conflicts may be achieved in the course of an interactive process. In barn owls, Tyto alba, in which siblings vocally compete during the prolonged absence of parents over access to the next delivered food item, we investigated what governs the decision to leave or enter a contest, and at which level. Siblings alternated periods during which one of the two individuals vocalized more than the other. Individuals followed turn-taking rules to interrupt each other and momentarily dominate the vocal competition. These social rules were weakly sensitive to hunger level and age hierarchy. Hence, the investment in a conflict is determined not only by need and resource-holding potential, but also by social interactions. The use of turn-taking rules governing individual vocal investment has rarely been shown in a competitive context. We hypothesized that these rules would allow individuals to remain alert to one another's motivation while maintaining the cost of vocalizing at the lowest level. (C) 2015 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Ltd.