Losses of female song with changes from tropical to temperate breeding in the New World blackbirds

J. Jordan Price, Scott M. Lanyon, Kevin E. Omland


Birds in which both sexes produce complex songs are thought to be more common in the tropics than in temperate areas, where typically only males sing. Yet the role of phylogeny in this apparent relationship between female song and latitude has never been examined. Here, we reconstruct evolutionary changes in female song and breeding latitude in the New World blackbirds (Icteridae), a family with both temperate and tropical representatives. We provide strong evidence that members of this group have moved repeatedly from tropical to temperate breeding ranges and, furthermore, that these range shifts were associated with losses of female song more often than expected by chance. This historical perspective suggests that male-biased song production in many temperate species is the result not of sexual selection for complex song in males but of selection against such songs in females. Our results provide new insights into the differences we see today between tropical and temperate songbirds, and suggest that the role of sexual selection in the evolution of bird song might not be as simple as we think.


    • Received November 9, 2008.
    • Accepted January 27, 2009.
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