Typical versions of learned swamp sparrow song types are more effective signals than are less typical versions

R. F. Lachlan, R. C. Anderson, S. Peters, W. A. Searcy, S. Nowicki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The learned songs of songbirds often cluster into population-wide types. Here, we test the hypothesis that male and female receivers respond differently to songs depending on how typical of those types they are. We used computational methods to cluster a large sample of swamp sparrow (Melospiza georgiana) songs into types and to estimate the degree to which individual song exemplars are typical of these types. We then played exemplars to male and female receivers. Territorial males responded more aggressively and captive females performed more sexual displays in response to songs that are highly typical than to songs that are less typical. Previous studies have demonstrated that songbirds distinguish song types that are typical for their species, or for their population, from those that are not. Our results show that swamp sparrows also discriminate typical from less typical exemplars within learned song-type categories. In addition, our results suggest that more typical versions of song types function better, at least in male-female communication. This finding is consistent with the hypothesis that syllable type typicality serves as a proxy for the assessment of song learning accuracy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20140252
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1785
StatePublished - May 7 2014


  • bird song
  • categories
  • communication
  • cultural transmission

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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