Song discrimination by male Mourning Warblers (Geothlypis philadelphia) and implications for population divergence across the breeding range


  • Jay Pitocchelli Biology Department, Saint Anselm College, Manchester, New Hampshire 03102



Mourning Warbler, Geothlypis philadelphia, song, playback experiment, song discrimination


Geographic variation in song may reduce or eliminate the ability of some populations to recognize each other as conspecifics, possibly leading to assortative mating, reproductive isolation, and speciation. Song playback experiments, used to evaluate the significance of geographic variation in song, have been particularly useful in discovering divergence among previously unknown populations of sibling species. In this study, I report the results of song playback to male Mourning Warblers (Geothlypis philadelphia) from populations throughout the breeding range and discuss the implications for population divergence. Four regions in the breeding range contain unique song types or regiolects: western, eastern, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland. Results of reciprocal song playback experiments showed that males from the western and Newfoundland regiolects respond more aggressively to songs in their own regiolect than those in the other regiolects. Interior populations, i.e., eastern and Nova Scotia regions, showed little or no difference in aggressive response toward their own versus other regiolects. This pattern may be due to a combination of geographic proximity of populations belonging to different regiolects, song learning, experience, and contact during migration. Song discrimination by populations from the western Prairie Provinces and Newfoundland is consistent with the existence of at least partial reproductive isolation at the geographic extremes of the breeding range.