skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Thursday, June 13 until 2:00 AM ET on Friday, June 14 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Title: Female swamp sparrows do not show evidence of discriminating between the songs of peak‐aged and senescent males

Sexual selection theory predicts that females face contrasting selection pressures when choosing the age of their mate. On the one hand, older males have demonstrated their ability to survive and they may be more experienced than younger males. At the same time, however, younger males are expected to have accumulated fewer deleterious mutations in their germline as compared to older males. These contrasting pressures on female preference may result in a preference for intermediate‐aged males. A preference for males of a particular age can only be expressed, however, if females are able to identify males of different ages. We have previously shown that male swamp sparrows display age‐related changes in vocal quality, such that males display sharp increases in vocal quality in early adulthood, followed by gradual senescent declines thereafter. We have also shown that territorial males discriminate these within‐individual differences, giving stronger aggressive responses to songs of peak‐aged males than to those of senescent males. Here, we use a copulation solicitation assay to test whether females also discriminate these within‐signaler markers of senescence in song. Contrary to our prediction, females did not show any evidence of discriminating between songs recorded from peak‐aged males as compared to songs from the same males following song senescence. We suggest that this difference in demonstrated discrimination between males and females may be the result of the two sexes attending to different song characteristics.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 91-97
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Signalers may benefit in some contexts from advertising their ages, for example in courting potential mates. Receivers in turn may benefit from assessing a signaler’s age, even in cases where their doing so is against the signaler’s interests. Indicators of age contained in signals thus may have important fitness consequences for both signalers and receivers. In birds, males of many species have been shown to display delayed maturation of their songs, resulting in older males singing songs that are higher in quality in one or more characteristics. Conversely, it seems possible that songs might eventually deteriorate with age as an aspect behavioral senescence. Studies of birdsong long enough to test both possibilities are quite uncommon, with nearly all studies aspect of age-dependent changes in birdsong spanning 3 or fewer years of males’ lives. Here, we present the longest longitudinal analysis of male birdsong to date, in which we analyze songs recorded for 4–11 years of the lives of captive male swamp sparrows. We find that males displayed delayed maturation of three song characteristics: song rate, song length, and consistency between songs. Delayed maturation was followed by behavioral senescence of three characteristics: song rate, stereotypy within songs, and consistency between songs. Because song quality declined in males beyond 2 years of age, this evidence is inconsistent with a signaling system in which females both prefer increasingly older males and are able to accurately determine male age through song assessment. Rather, our evidence suggests that swamp sparrows should be able to use song to distinguish intermediate-aged males from 1-year-old and very old males.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Conspicuous female signals have recently received substantial scientific attention, but it remains unclear if their evolution is the result of selection acting on females independently of males or if mutual selection facilitates female change. Species that express female, but not male, phenotypic variation among populations represents a useful opportunity to address this knowledge gap. White‐shouldered fairywrens (Malurus alboscapulatus) are tropical songbirds with a well‐resolved phylogeny where female, but not male, coloration varies allopatrically across subspecies. We explored how four distinct signaling modalities, each putatively associated with increased social selection, are expressed in two populations that vary in competitive pressure on females. Females in a derived subspecies (M.a.moretoni) have evolved more ornamented plumage and have shorter tails (a signal of social dominance) relative to an ancestral subspecies (M.a.lorentzi) with drab females. In response to simulated territorial intrusions broadcasting female song, both sexes ofM.a.moretoniare more aggressive and more coordinated with their mates in both movement and vocalizations. Finally,M.a.moretonisongs are more complex thanM.a.lorentzi, but song complexity does not vary between sexes in either population. These results suggest that correlated phenotypic shifts in coloration and tail morphology in females as well as song complexity and aggression in both sexes may have occurred in response to changes in the intensity of social selection pressures. This highlights increased competitive pressures in both sexes can facilitate the evolution of complex multimodal signals.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Selective logging is the primary cause of tropical forest degradation and is rapidly expanding worldwide. While the impacts of logging on species diversity and distributions are well understood, little is known about the effects of logging on animal behaviours central to individual fitness and population persistence.

    The song rate of breeding songbirds is a behavioural trait that is often positively associated with male density and used by conspecific females as an indicator of territory and male quality. Thus, contrasting logging‐induced adjustments in song rates of individual birds with population shifts may illuminate potential mechanisms underlying population distributions.

    We present a novel application of bioacoustic monitoring, integrating counts of individuals, songs and duets from single automated recording units (ARUs) withN‐mixture models, to estimate shifts in population parameters (occupancy, abundance) and singing behaviours (per‐capita song rates, per‐pair duet rates) of 32 Bornean songbird species with logging. We tested hypotheses on the relationships between adjustments in behavioural and population parameters with logging, and further tested the extent to which species traits predicted behavioural and population shifts.

    Adjustments to singing behaviour in 59 and 53% of species (57% of duetting species) were concordant with differences in occupancy and abundance respectively, such that species showing reduced populations with logging also produced fewer songs per‐capita, and vice versa. Species known to prefer undisturbed habitats and large‐bodied species showed the most negative effects of logging on singing behaviour and population distributions. Species known to exploit degraded habitats exhibited the opposite pattern. Subdued singing in logged forests by species of conservation concern suggests limited competition between territorial males in small populations and may also signal low‐quality territories.

    Synthesis and applications. We demonstrate that bioacoustic monitoring can be used to not only estimate important population parameters of occupancy and abundance across a diverse tropical songbird community, but also enables quantification of behaviours considered relevant to individual fitness, yet unobtainable with conventional methods (e.g. point counts). Bioacoustics provides a viable approach to reliable automated large‐scale monitoring of hyperdiverse tropical forest systems under logging operations and other land‐use pressures.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Correlative evidence suggests that high problem‐solving and foraging abilities in a mate are associated with direct fitness advantages, so it would benefit females to prefer problem‐solving males. Recent work has also shown that females of several bird species who directly observe males prefer those that can solve a novel foraging task over those that cannot. In addition to or instead of direct observation of cognitive skills, many species utilize assessment signals when choosing a mate. Here, we test whether females can select a problem‐solving male over a non‐solving male when presented only with a signal known to be used in mate assessment: song. Using an operant conditioning assay, we compared female zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) preference for the songs of males that could quickly solve a novel foraging task to the songs of males that could not solve the task. Females were never housed with the test subject males whose song they heard, and the only information provided about the males was their song. We found that females elicited more songs of problem‐solving males than of non‐solvers, indicating that song may contain information about a male’s ability to solve a novel foraging task and that naïve females prefer the songs of problem‐solving males.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Historically, bird song complexity was thought to evolve primarily through sexual selection on males; yet, in many species, both sexes sing and selection pressure on both sexes may be broader. Previous research suggests competition for mates and resources during short, synchronous breeding seasons leads to more elaborate male songs at high, temperate latitudes. Furthermore, we expect male–female song structure and elaboration to be more similar at lower, tropical latitudes, where longer breeding seasons and year‐round territoriality yield similar social selection pressures in both sexes. However, studies seldom take both types of selective pressures and sexes into account. We examined song in both sexes in 15 populations of nine‐fairy‐wren species (Maluridae), a Southern Hemisphere clade with female song. We compared song elaboration (in both sexes) and sexual song dimorphism to latitude and life‐history variables tied to sexual and social selection pressures and sex roles. Our results suggest that song elaboration evolved in part due to sexual competition in males: male songs were longer than female songs in populations with low male survival and less male provisioning. Also, female songs evolved independently of male songs: female songs were slower paced than male songs, although only in less synchronously breeding populations. We also found male and female songs were more similar when parental care was more equal and when male survival was high, which provides strong evidence that sex role similarity correlates with male–female song similarity. Contrary to Northern Hemisphere latitudinal patterns, male and female songs were more similar at higher, temperate latitudes. These results suggest that selection on song can be sex specific, with male song elaboration favored in contexts with stronger sexual selection. At the same time, selection pressures associated with sex role similarity appear to favor sex role similarity in song structure.

    more » « less