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Keywords:

  • behavioural isolation;
  • call types;
  • ecological speciation;
  • Loxia curvirostra;
  • marker traits;
  • mate choice

Abstract

We conducted mate choice experiments to determine whether differences in calls or bill morphology might influence assortative mating between call types of red crossbills (Loxia curvirostra complex) that have diverged in bill structure to specialize on different species of conifers. Females preferred males that gave calls that matched their own type, but did not prefer males that more closely approximated the average or optimal bill size of the female's call type. These results were consistent with our breeding simulations, which showed that females gained an indirect fitness benefit by choosing a male of her own call type because this reduced the production of offspring with morphologies that fell between adaptive peaks. However, choice based on bill morphology within a call type provided no further benefit. Calls, which crossbills learn from their parents, likely act as a marker trait indicative of the morphological adaptations of the group, allow for easy assessment of potential mates and facilitate rapid divergence under ecological selection.