Variation in the temporal and spatial use of signals and its implications for multimodal communication

J. Albert C. Uy, Rebecca J. Safran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


The use of signals across multiple sensory modalities in communication is common in animals and plants. Determining the information that each signal component conveys has provided unique insights into why multimodal signals evolve. However, how these complex signals are assessed by receivers will also influence their evolution, a hypothesis that has received less attention. Here, we explore multimodal signal assessment in a closely related complex of island flycatchers that have diverged in visual and acoustic signals. Using field experiments that manipulated song and plumage colour, we tested if song, a possible long-range signal, is assessed before plumage colour in conspecific recognition. We find that divergent song and colour are assessed in sequence, and this pattern of sequential assessment is likely mediated by habitat structure and the extent of differences in signal characteristics. A broad survey of the literature suggests that many organisms from a wide range of taxa sequentially assess multimodal signals, with long-range signals attracting conspecifics for further assessment of close-range signals. Our results highlight the need to consider how signals are assessed when understanding multimodal signal evolution. Finally, given the results of our field experiments indicating sequential assessment of divergent song and colour in the recognition of conspecifics, we discuss the consequences of multimodal signal divergence for the origin of species, as changes in signals across different sensory modalities may influence the evolution of premating reproductive isolation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1499-1511
Number of pages13
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • Monarcha castaneiventris
  • Multimodal signals
  • Premating reproductive isolation
  • Sequential assessment
  • Sexual selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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