Song variation in an avian ring species

Evolution. 2000 Jun;54(3):998-1010. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2000.tb00099.x.


Divergence of mating signals can occur rapidly and be of prime importance in causing reproductive isolation and speciation. A ring species, in which two reproductively isolated taxa are connected by a chain of intergrading populations, provides a rare opportunity to use spatial variation to reconstruct the history of divergence. I use geographic variation in the song of a likely ring species, the greenish warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides) to reconstruct the microevolutionary steps that occurred during divergence of a trait that is often important in speciation in birds. Populations of a western Siberian (P. t. viridanus) and an eastern Siberian (P. t. plumbeitarsus) form of the greenish warbler meet, but do not interbreed in central Siberia; these forms are connected by a chain of interbreeding populations extending in a ring to the south around the treeless Tibetan Plateau. I show that: (1) song structure differs greatly between the two Siberian forms, which share the same habitat; (2) song structure changes gradually around the ring; (3) singing behavior is relatively simple in the Himalayas, but becomes increasingly complex to the north, both to the west and east of the Tibetan Plateau; and (4) song varies along independent axes of complexity in the western and eastern south-north clines. By comparing geographic variation in singing behavior and ecological variables, I distinguish among possible causes of song divergence, including selection based on the acoustic environment, stochastic effects of sexual selection, and selection for species recognition. I suggest that parallel south-to-north ecological gradients have caused a greater intensity of sexual selection on song in northern populations and that the stochastic effects of sexual selection have led to divergence in song structure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Ecology
  • Reproduction
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal
  • Vocalization, Animal*