Spatial and age-related variation in use of locally common song elements in dawn singing of song sparrows Melospiza melodia: Old males sing the hits

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Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology





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In many songbirds, individuals have repertoires of multiple song types, some of which may be shared with others in the local area. Hypotheses about the evolution of song repertoires differ as to whether selection acts primarily on repertoire size itself or the ability to match songs of neighbours. We used a 16-channel acoustic location system to record neighbourhoods of song sparrows (Melospiza melodia melodia) during the dawn chorus. We asked whether males sing all songs with similar frequency as predicted by the Repertoire Size Hypothesis, whether males preferentially sing highly shared songs as predicted by the General Sharing Hypothesis, or whether use of highly shared songs is associated with phenotype as predicted by the Conditional Sharing Hypothesis. Contrary to the Repertoire Size Hypothesis, most males did not sing all songs equally often. Contrary to the General Sharing Hypothesis, we found no general tendency to overproduce highly shared songs. The degree to which males overproduced highly shared songs was repeatable across days, indicating consistent individual differences, and varied across neighbourhoods. Moreover, and consistent with the Conditional Sharing Hypothesis, older males were more likely to overproduce highly shared songs. If highly shared song is a conventional signal of aggression, with the threat of receiver retaliation maintaining honesty, older males may be more willing or able to risk conflict. Alternatively, males may learn which songs are effective signals for an area. Finally, age-related variation in vocal performance may shape the adaptive value of highly shared song. © 2011 Springer-Verlag.