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Journal of Avian Biology





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Geographic variation in male bird songs has been studied extensively, but there have been few investigations of geographic variation in female songs or sex differences in patterns of geographic variation. We compared patterns of variation in male and female songs of eastern whipbirds Psophodes olivaceus by analyzing recordings from 16 populations across the species’ geographic range in eastern Australia. We found remarkably different patterns of geographic variation between the sexes. Female eastern whipbird songs are easily categorized into discrete song types. Song types are shared between nearby females, but female songs show pronounced differences at a continental scale. In contrast, male eastern whipbird songs show high consistency throughout the species’ geographic range. All recorded males share the ability to transpose the frequency of the introductory whistle and most recorded males share the ability to vary the direction of the slope of the terminal whip crack. For eight of nine measured variables, female songs show significantly higher levels of variation than male songs. We discuss whether sex differences in dispersal, song learning strategies, and song function may explain these sex differences in patterns of song variation. We suggest that eastern whipbirds have experienced a decoupling of male and female song learning strategies and that the songs of each sex have responded to different selective pressures in the context of countersinging interactions. We speculate that consistency in male songs throughout the geographic range of eastern whipbirds may arise through female preference for males that perform large bandwidth whip cracks.

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