Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 69, Issue 9, pp 1493–1500 | Cite as

The intensity of male-male interactions declines in highland songbird populations

  • Giulia Bastianelli
  • Javier Seoane
  • Paloma Álvarez-Blanco
  • Paola Laiolo
Original Paper


Elevation gradients are associated with sharp environmental clines that play a crucial role in the phenotypic diversification of animal populations. In a variety of organisms, the reproductive output of females declines with elevation in parallel to the drop in environmental productivity and shortening of the breeding season. Little evidence is available on male traits associated with reproductive activities, such as territorial defence and signalling, which may decline because of the low economic defendability of resources and the selective advantage of investing in parental rather than mating (e.g. signalling, chasing intruders) effort in such conditions. Along a broad elevational gradient, we investigated variation in the intensity of territorial defence and sexual signalling in males of the water pipit Anthus spinoletta exposed to song playbacks simulating the territorial intrusion of a conspecific. We found that birds from the lower limits of the species distribution approached song stimuli more closely than those from the upper limits. Moreover, physically challenging songs (broad frequency bandwidths and fast trills) elicited a closer approach, and low elevation birds uttered songs ending with the broadest bandwidths. Other responses to the intrusion, such as the number of songs uttered or the latency to approach, exhibited seasonal or spatial variation irrespective of elevation. This study illustrates the decline of some trait associated with aggressive territorial behaviours during male-male conflicts along elevation, and points to the allocation in sexual signalling and motor constraints to signal production, as potential mechanisms underlying it.


Birdsong Elevational gradient Sexual selection Territoriality 

Supplementary material

265_2015_1961_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (69 kb)
Fig. S1Maps depicting the study sites in the western and eastern massifs of Los Picos de Europa and the location of the territories tested in the experiment. (PDF 69 kb)
265_2015_1961_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (25 kb)
Fig. S2Recording period and elevation for each experimental site. (PDF 25 kb)
265_2015_1961_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (181 kb)
Table S1Spectrogram of a water pipit song. (PDF 180 kb)
265_2015_1961_MOESM4_ESM.pdf (25 kb)
Table S2Results of models explaining variation in water pipit latency to attack and number of songs. (PDF 25 kb)
265_2015_1961_MOESM5_ESM.pdf (19 kb)
Table S3Acoustic variation between lowland and highland songs, and influence of song characteristics in water pipit response to playback stimuli. (PDF 19 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Giulia Bastianelli
    • 1
  • Javier Seoane
    • 2
  • Paloma Álvarez-Blanco
    • 1
    • 3
  • Paola Laiolo
    • 1
  1. 1.Research Unit of Biodiversity (CSIC, UO, PA)Universidad de OviedoMieresSpain
  2. 2.Terrestrial Ecology Group, Departamento de EcologíaUniversidad Autónoma de MadridMadridSpain
  3. 3.Doñana Biological Station (CSIC)SevillaSpain

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