GRE Reading Comprehension

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Source: OG2

Animal signals, such as the complex songs of birds, tend to be costly. A bird, by singing, may forfeit time that could otherwise be spent on other important behaviors such as foraging or resting. Singing may also advertise an individuals location to rivals or predators and impair the ability to detect their approach. Although these types of cost may be important, discussions of the cost of singing have generally focused on energy costs. Overall the evidence is equivocal: for instance, while Eberhardt found increases in energy consumption during singing for Carolina wrens, Chappell found no effect of crowing on energy consumption in roosters.

To obtain empirical data regarding the energy costs of singing, Thomas examined the relationship between song rate and overnight changes in body mass of male nightingales. Birds store energy as subcutaneous fat deposits or "body reserves"; changes in these reserves can be reliably estimated by measuring changes in body mass. If singing has important energy costs, nightingales should lose more body mass on nights when their song rate is high. Thomas found that nightingales reached a significantly higher body mass at dusk and lost more mass overnight on nights when their song rate was high.

These results suggest that there may be several costs of singing at night associated with body reserves. The increased metabolic cost of possessing higher body mass contributes to the increased overnight mass loss. The strategic regulation of evening body reserves is also likely to incur additional costs, as nightingales must spend more time foraging in order to build up larger body reserves. The metabolic cost of singing itself may also contribute to increased loss of reserves. This metabolic cost may arise from the muscular and neural activity involved in singing or from behaviors associated with singing. For example, birds may expend more of their reserves on thermoregulation if they spend the night exposed to the wind on a song post than if they are in a sheltered roost site. Thomas's data therefore show that whether or not singing per se has an important metabolic cost, metabolic costs associated with singing can have an important measurable effect on a bird's daily energy budget, at least in birds with high song rates such as nightingales.

Question List: 1

It can be inferred from the passage that compared with other costs of singing, which of the following is true of the energy costs of singing?

  • A They are the single greatest cost to an individual bird.
  • B They have generally received more attention from scientists.
  • C They vary less from one bird species to another.

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