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The evolution of song in female birds in Europe

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Abstract

Bird song is usually regarded as an attribute of males. However, in some species, females may also produce songs even with comparable complexity to that of males. It has been suggested that female song may evolve due to similar selection pressures acting on males, but no study has yet investigated the evolution of female vocalization in a phylogenetic context, a gap that we intended to fill with this study. Based on standard descriptions in The Birds of Western Palearctic, we classified 233 European passerine species with respect to whether females are known to produce songs or not. We were more likely to find information on female song for species whose song is more studied than for less intensively studied species. When we traced information on female song on a phylogeny, we found that at least in 2 avian families, female song appeared to be the ancestral state, but such an ancestral state may be expected to be even deeper in the phylogenetic tree with increasing information on female song. In fact, we cannot exclude the possibility that the ancestor of European passerines had females capable of singing. In a preliminary comparative study based on the available data, we found some evidence that female song may have evolved under the influence of sexual selection as carotenoid-based dichromatism was positively related to female song among species. Our findings imply that due to publication bias, the evolutionary importance of female song is generally underestimated. Copyright 2007.

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