Song playbacks demonstrate slower evolution of song discrimination in birds from Amazonia than from temperate North America

by Jason T. Weir, Trevor D. Price

Genetic data indicate differences in speciation rate across latitudes, but underlying causes have been difficult to assess because a critical phase of the speciation process is initiated in allopatry, in which, by definition, individuals from different taxa do not interact. We conducted song playback experiments between 109 related pairs of mostly allopatric bird species or subspecies in Amazonia and North America to compare the rate of evolution of male discrimination of songs. Relative to local controls, the number of flyovers and approach to the speaker were higher in Amazonia. We estimate that responses to songs of relatives are being lost about 6 times more slowly in Amazonia than in North America. The slow loss of response holds even after accounting for differences in song frequency and song length. Amazonian species with year-round territories are losing aggressive responses especially slowly. We suggest the presence of many species and extensive interspecific territoriality favors recognition of songs sung by sympatric heterospecifics, which results in a broader window of recognition and hence an ongoing response to novel similar songs. These aggressive responses should slow the establishment of sympatry between recently diverged forms. If male responses to novel allopatric taxa reflect female responses, then premating reproductive isolation is also evolving more slowly in Amazonia. The findings are consistent with previously demonstrated slower recent rates of expansion of sister taxa into sympatry, slower rates of evolution of traits important for premating isolation, and slower rates of speciation in general in Amazonia than in temperate North America.

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