Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 67, Issue 9, pp 1499–1511 | Cite as

Variation in the temporal and spatial use of signals and its implications for multimodal communication

  • J. Albert C. Uy
  • Rebecca J. Safran
Original Paper


The use of signals across multiple sensory modalities in communication is common in animals and plants. Determining the information that each signal component conveys has provided unique insights into why multimodal signals evolve. However, how these complex signals are assessed by receivers will also influence their evolution, a hypothesis that has received less attention. Here, we explore multimodal signal assessment in a closely related complex of island flycatchers that have diverged in visual and acoustic signals. Using field experiments that manipulated song and plumage colour, we tested if song, a possible long-range signal, is assessed before plumage colour in conspecific recognition. We find that divergent song and colour are assessed in sequence, and this pattern of sequential assessment is likely mediated by habitat structure and the extent of differences in signal characteristics. A broad survey of the literature suggests that many organisms from a wide range of taxa sequentially assess multimodal signals, with long-range signals attracting conspecifics for further assessment of close-range signals. Our results highlight the need to consider how signals are assessed when understanding multimodal signal evolution. Finally, given the results of our field experiments indicating sequential assessment of divergent song and colour in the recognition of conspecifics, we discuss the consequences of multimodal signal divergence for the origin of species, as changes in signals across different sensory modalities may influence the evolution of premating reproductive isolation.


Multimodal signals Sequential assessment Sexual selection Monarcha castaneiventris Premating reproductive isolation 



We thank the people of the Solomon Islands, especially the villages of Gupuna, Namugha and Barana, and the staff of Tetepare, for their hospitality. John and Joyce Murray helped with the logistics of field work in Makira Province. We thank the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) working group on “Sexual selection and speciation” for stimulating discussions. We thank F. Mora-Kepfer, E. Scordato and M. Wilkins for helpful advice and suggestions. This work was funded by National Science Foundation CAREER grants to J.A.C.U. (IOS 1137624/0643606) and R.J.S. (DEB 1149942), and as part of the Sexual Selection and Speciation working group sponsored by NESCent (NSF #EF-0905606).

Ethical Standards

This research adhered to the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee guidelines for the use of vertebrate animals in research and the legal requirements of the country in which the work was carried out. Permission to work in the Solomon Islands was granted by the Ministry of Education, Solomon Islands.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA

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