Flycatcher song in allopatry and sympatry--convergence, divergence and reinforcement

J Evol Biol. 2004 Mar;17(2):227-37. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2003.00682.x.


The theory of reinforcement predicts that natural selection against the production of unfit hybrids favours traits that increase assortative mating. Whether culturally inherited traits, such as bird song, can increase assortative mating by reinforcement is largely unknown. We compared songs of pied (Ficedula hypoleuca) and collared flycatchers (F. albicollis) from two hybrid zones of different ages with songs from allopatric populations. Previously, a character divergence in male plumage traits has been shown to reinforce premating isolation in sympatric flycatchers. In contrast, we find that the song of the pied flycatcher has converged towards that of the collared flycatcher (mixed singing). However, a corresponding divergence in the collared flycatcher shows that the species differences in song characters are maintained in sympatry. Genetic analyses suggest that mixed song is not caused by introgression from the collared flycatcher, but rather due to heterospecific copying. Circumstantial evidence suggests that mixed song may increase the rate of maladaptive hybridization. In the oldest hybrid zone where reinforcement on plumage traits is most pronounced, the frequency of mixed singing and hybridization is also lowest. Thus, we suggest that reinforcement has reduced the frequency of mixed singing in the pied flycatcher and caused a divergence in the song of the collared flycatcher. Whether a culturally inherited trait promotes or opposes speciation in sympatry may depend on its plasticity. The degree of plasticity may be genetically determined and accordingly under selection by reinforcement.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Europe
  • Geography
  • Hybridization, Genetic*
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Songbirds / physiology*
  • Sound Spectrography
  • Species Specificity
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*