The intensity of male-male interactions declines in highland songbird populations
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.
KeywordsBirdsong Elevational gradient Sexual selection Territoriality
- Bollmann K, Reyer HU, Brodmann PA (1997) Territory quality and reproductive success: can water pipits Anthus spinoletta assess the relationship reliably? Ardea 85:83–98Google Scholar
- Searcy WA, Nowicki S (2005) The evolution of animal communication: reliability and deception in signaling systems. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
- Westneat DF, Sherman PW, Morton ML (1990) The ecology and evolution of extra-pair copulations in birds. Curr Ornithol 7:331–369Google Scholar