The effect of habitat and body size on the evolution of vocal displays in Thraupidae (tanagers), the largest family of songbirds

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© 2015 The Linnean Society of London. Animals rely on auditory cues to relay important information between individuals regarding territoriality, mating status, and individual condition. The efficacy of acoustic signals can depend on many factors, including the transmitter, the receiver, and the signalling environment. In the present study, we evaluate the effect of body size and habitat on the evolution of learned vocal displays across the tanagers (Aves: Thraupidae), a group that comprises nearly 10% of all songbird species. We find that body size affects tanager vocalizations, such that nine out of ten song characters and scores from two principal component axes were correlated with mass. More specifically, larger tanagers tended to produce slower-paced, lower-pitched vocal displays within narrower bandwidths. In contrast, habitat was correlated with only three out of ten song characters, and only one of these characters corroborated the directional predictions of the acoustic adaptation hypothesis. Thus, morphological characters, such as body mass, may play a more important role than variation among signalling environments in the evolution of avian vocal displays.

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Biological Journal of the Linnean Society

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