Journal article

Female song is widespread and ancestral in songbirds

Karan J Odom, Michelle L Hall, Katharina Riebel, Kevin E Omland, Naomi E Langmore



Bird song has historically been considered an almost exclusively male trait, an observation fundamental to the formulation of Darwin's theory of sexual selection. Like other male ornaments, song is used by male songbirds to attract females and compete with rivals. Thus, bird song has become a textbook example of the power of sexual selection to lead to extreme neurological and behavioural sex differences. Here we present an extensive survey and ancestral state reconstruction of female song across songbirds showing that female song is present in 71% of surveyed species including 32 families, and that females sang in the common ancestor of modern songbirds. Our results reverse classical assump..

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University of Melbourne Researchers


Awarded by NSF

Funding Acknowledgements

We thank K. Cain, R. Heinsohn, M. K. Richardson, C. Scharff, H. Slabbekoorn and S. Verhulst for helpful comments on the manuscript, and M. D. Crisp, R. D. Edwards, N.R. Friedman and L. Joseph for useful discussion and help with analysis. This research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation and Australian Academy of Science through an East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes graduate research fellowship to K.J.O. N.E.L. was supported by an Australian Research Council Fellowship and Discovery Grant. K.E.O. was supported by NSF grant DEB 1119506. We thank the authors of the pictures used in Fig. 1.