Acoustic discrimination of sympatric morphs in Darwin's finches: a behavioural mechanism for assortative mating?

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2010 Apr 12;365(1543):1031-9. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2009.0289.


Populations with multiple morphological or behavioural types provide unique opportunities for studying the causes and consequences of evolutionary diversification. A population of the medium ground finch (Geospiza fortis) at El Garrapatero on Santa Cruz Island, Galápagos, features two beak size morphs. These morphs produce acoustically distinctive songs, are subject to disruptive selection and mate assortatively by morph. The main goal of the present study was to assess whether finches from this population are able to use song as a cue for morph discrimination. A secondary goal of this study was to evaluate whether birds from this population discriminate songs of their own locality versus another St Cruz locality, Borrero Bay, approximately 24 km to the NW. I presented territorial males with playback of songs of their own morph, of the other morph, and of males from Borrero Bay. Males responded more strongly to same-morph than to other-morph playbacks, showing significantly shorter latencies to flight, higher flight rates and closer approaches to the playback speaker. By contrast, I found only minor effects of locality on responsiveness. Evidence for morph discrimination via acoustic cues supports the hypothesis that song can serve as a behavioural mechanism for assortative mating and sympatric evolutionary divergence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Beak / anatomy & histology
  • Beak / physiology*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Ecuador
  • Female
  • Finches / anatomy & histology
  • Finches / physiology*
  • Male
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Tape Recording
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*