Species-level Repertoire Size Predicts a Correlation Between Individual Song Elaboration and Reproductive Success
Robinson, Cristina M.
Birdsong has long been considered a sexually selected trait that relays honest information about male quality, and laboratory studies generally suggest that female songbirds prefer larger repertoires. However, analysis of field studies across species surprisingly revealed a weak correlation between song elaboration and reproductive success, and it remains unknown why only certain species show this correlation in nature. Taken together, these studies suggest that females in numerous species can detect and prefer larger repertoires in a laboratory setting, but larger individual repertoires correlate with reproductive success only in a subset of these species. This prompts the question: Do the species that show a stronger correlation between reproductive success and larger individual repertoires in nature have anything in common? In this study, we test whether between-species differences in two song-related variables-species average syllable repertoire size and adult song stability over time-can be used to predict the importance of individual song elaboration in reproductive success within a species. Our cross-species meta-analysis of field studies revealed that species with larger average syllable repertoire sizes exhibited a stronger correlation between individual elaboration and reproductive success than species with smaller syllable repertoires. Song stability versus plasticity in adulthood provided little predictive power on its own, suggesting that the putative correlation between repertoire size and age in open-ended learners does not explain the association between song elaboration and reproductive success.