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Ecology And Evolution


Vocal traits can be sexually selected to reflect male quality, but may also evolve to serve additional signaling functions. We used a long-term dataset to examine the signaling potential of song in dimorphic white-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis). We investigated whether song conveys multifaceted information about the vocalizing individual, including fitness, species identity, individual identity, and morph. We also evaluated whether song traits correlate differently with fitness in the two morphs, as the more promiscuous strategy of white, relative to tan, morph males might impose stronger sexual selection. Males with high song rates achieved higher lifetime reproductive success, and this pattern was driven by white morph males. In addition, males that sang songs with many notes survived longer, but this pattern was less robust. Thus, song traits reflect differences in fitness and may more strongly affect fitness in the white morph. Song frequency was unrelated to fitness, body size, or morph, but was individual specific and could signal individual identity. Songs of the two morphs displayed similar frequency ratios and bandwidths. However, tan morph males sang songs with longer first notes, fewer notes, and higher variability. Thus, song could be used in morph discrimination. Variation in frequency ratios between notes was low and could function in conspecific recognition, but pitch change dynamics did differ between four different song types observed. Our results support a multiple messages model for white-throated sparrow song, in which different song traits communicate discrete information about the vocalizing individual.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


This work is freely available under a Creative Commons license.