Behavioral Ecology - Original Paper


, Volume 157, Issue 3, pp 545-551

First online:

Ecological gradient of sexual selection: elevation and song elaboration in finches

  • Emilie C. Snell-RoodAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of ArizonaDepartment of Biology, Indiana University Email author 
  • , Alexander V. BadyaevAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona

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Ecological gradients in natural and sexual selection often result in evolutionary diversification of morphological, life history, and behavioral traits. In particular, elevational changes in habitat structure and climate not only covary with intensity of sexual selection in many taxa, but may also influence evolution of mating signals. Here we examined variation in courtship song in relation to elevation of breeding across cardueline finches—a subfamily of birds that occupies the widest elevational range of extant birds and shows extensive variation in life histories and sexual selection along this range. We predicted that decrease in sexual selection intensity with elevation of breeding documented in this clade would result in a corresponding evolutionary reduction in elaboration of courtship songs. We controlled for the effects of phylogeny, morphology, and habitat structure to uncover a predicted elevational decline in courtship song elaboration; species breeding at lower elevations sang more elaborated and louder songs compared to their sister species breeding at higher elevations. In addition, lower elevation species had longer songs with more notes, whereas frequency components of song did not vary with elevation. We suggest that changes in sexual selection account for the observed patterns of song variation and discuss how elevational gradient in sexual selection may facilitate divergence in mating signals potentially reinforcing or promoting speciation.


Bird song Sexual selection Environmental gradient Cardueline finches Speciation