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Macrogeographic Variation in Song – a Test of Competition and Habitat Effects in Blue Tits


Claire Doutrelant, Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, UIA, Universiteitsplein 1. B-2610 Wilrijk, Belgium. E-mail: Lambrechts CEFE-CNRS, 1919 Rte de Mende, 34293 Montpelier cedex, France. E-mail:


Investigations into the environmental causes of phenotypic variation may reveal information regarding the selective pressures leading to the evolution of these phenotypes. Blue tit (Parus caeruleus) song varies geographically in the proportion of song types that contain a trill (i.e. a series of identical notes repeated in sequence at a very rapid rate produced at the end of a song). In order to determine the environmental factors influencing geographic variation in the proportion of blue tit songs with a trill, we conducted a comparative study. At macrogeographic and regional scales we examined the effect of three factors that could influence geographic variation in blue tit song: dominant vegetation type, intraspecific competition and interspecific competition with great tits (Parus major). Interspecific competition may result in song convergence or song divergence (hereafter called character shift). The results we obtained are consistent with predictions of the character shift hypothesis: the proportion of songs presenting a different syntax to great tit songs (songs with a trill) increases significantly with relative great tit density. Results do not support predictions of hypotheses concerning song convergence or intraspecific competition. The results are consistent with some of the predictions of the acoustic adaptation hypothesis.

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