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Sex role similarity and sexual selection predict male and female song elaboration and dimorphism in fairy-wrens




Odom, Karan J.
Cain, Kristal
Hall, Michelle
Langmore, Naomi
Mulder, Raoul
Kleindorfer, Sonia
Karubian, Jordan
Brouwer, Lyanne
Enbody, Erik
Jones, John Anthony

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John Wiley & Sons Inc


Historically, bird song complexity was thought to evolve primarily through sexual selection on males; yet, in many species, both sexes sing and selection pressure on both sexes may be broader. Previous research suggests competition for mates and resources during short, synchronous breeding seasons leads to more elaborate male songs at high, temperate latitudes. Furthermore, we expect male–female song structure and elaboration to be more similar at lower, tropical latitudes, where longer breeding seasons and year-round territoriality yield similar social selection pressures in both sexes. However, studies seldom take both types of selective pressures and sexes into account. We examined song in both sexes in 15 populations of nine-fairy-wren species (Maluridae), a Southern Hemisphere clade with female song. We compared song elaboration (in both sexes) and sexual song dimorphism to latitude and life-history variables tied to sexual and social selection pressures and sex roles. Our results suggest that song elaboration evolved in part due to sexual competition in males: male songs were longer than female songs in populations with low male survival and less male provisioning. Also, female songs evolved independently of male songs: female songs were slower paced than male songs, although only in less synchronously breeding populations. We also found male and female songs were more similar when parental care was more equal and when male survival was high, which provides strong evidence that sex role similarity correlates with male–female song similarity. Contrary to Northern Hemisphere latitudinal patterns, male and female songs were more similar at higher, temperate latitudes. These results suggest that selection on song can be sex specific, with male song elaboration favored in contexts with stronger sexual selection. At the same time, selection pressures associated with sex role similarity appear to favor sex role similarity in song structure.



complexity, dimorphism, life history, Malurus, sex roles


Odom, K. J., Cain, K. E., Hall, M. L., Langmore, N. E., Mulder, R. A., Kleindorfer, S., Karubian, J., Brouwer, L., Enbody, E. D., Jones, J. A., Dowling, J. L., Leitão, A. V., Greig, E. I., Evans, C., Johnson, A. E., Meyers, K. K.-A., Araya-Salas, M., & Webster, M. S. (2021). Sex role similarity and sexual selection predict male and female song elaboration and dimorphism in fairy-wrens. Ecology and Evolution, 11, 17901–17919.


Ecology and Evolution


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Open Access

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Creative Commons Attribution License



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