Rapid evolution of a novel song and an increase in repertoire size in an island population of an Australian songbird


*Corresponding author.
Email: mcbaker@lamar.colostate.edu


Cultural innovations are commonly noted in animals, but times of development of novel traits are usually unknown. We report here a novel song type arising in a bird population on an offshore island of Western Australia where the time of colonization of the island by the Western Gerygone Gerygone fusca is known. On the mainland, a single song type is widespread. On Rottnest Island, many individuals sing a different type of song and a number possess a repertoire of two song types: the standard song shared with the mainland and the novel song type not found on the neighbouring mainland. The novel song type found on Rottnest is so different in its syntactical structure that one could easily mistake it for that of a new species. The characteristic song of mainland birds is irregular in the frequencies at which the notes within a song are delivered. The novel song on Rottnest has a highly structured syntax with notes delivered at a strict and repeated sequence of frequencies resulting in a rhythmic musical sound. The species is known to have colonized Rottnest in about 1955. The new song type apparently developed rapidly by cultural evolution in the last 50 years.