Differentiation of Mating Vocalizations in Birds: Acoustic Features in Mainland and Island Populations and Evidence of Habitat-Dependent Selection on Songs


Myron C. Baker, 3 Bussell Street, Augusta, Western Australia, Australia 6290.
E-mail: mcbaker@lamar.colostate.edu


Local environments can act as selective agents on some characteristics of birds’ songs, whereas other song traits may not reflect local genetic adaptation. Geographic variation in songs of two Australian bird species (red-capped robins Petroica goodenovii, western gerygones Gerygone fusca) was studied to examine one component of the ‘habitat-dependent selection’ hypothesis. This hypothesis suggests that: (1) the detailed spectral characteristics of male songs are an evolved response to local habitat conditions affecting signal propagation and detection and (2) parallel evolution of other fitness traits sets up the potential for assortative mating by female choice. To examine the first part of the hypothesis, I made comparisons among widespread mainland populations and an island population using two levels of analysis: a typological analysis of song morphology (phonology: notes, syllables, syntax, temporal pattern, repertoires) and a spectral analysis of acoustic characteristics of songs (mean frequency, Wiener entropy, frequency modulation) using an automated procedure of feature extraction (Sound Analysis Pro). Spectral analysis was also used to extract values of the same acoustic features from the background sound environment of each recorded population. The typological analysis revealed no differences among mainland populations of either species, but large differences between mainland songs and those on the island. In contrast, the spectral analysis revealed acoustic divergence among populations, both mainland and island. For both species, Wiener entropy of songs correlated negatively with that of the ambient sound environment, consistent with predictions of the habitat-dependent selection hypothesis of environmental selection on signal design.