Skip to main content

Evolution of vocal performance and song complexity in island birds

Cite this dataset

Robert, Aloïs (2021). Evolution of vocal performance and song complexity in island birds [Dataset]. Dryad.


Oceanic islands share distinctive characteristics thought to underlie a set of parallel evolutionary trends across islands and taxonomic groups – including life history traits, morphology and visual signals. To which extent acoustic signals also change in parallel on islands is less clear. Some important processes associated with insularity, such as founder effects and reduced sexual selection, could lead to a decrease in vocal performance and song complexity on islands. In a field-based study, we recorded 11 insular species and their closest mainland relatives. Out of the 11 species pairs, 6 live in the tropics (São Tomé / Mount Cameroon), and 5 in the temperate region (Madeira / southern France). For each species we measured two proxies of vocal performance (song duration and syllable rate) and one proxy of song complexity (syllable diversity). This study did not recover a clear relationship between the island environment and song traits. If as expected, syllable rate was lower in island species than in their mainland counterparts, the two other proxies showed no clear island-mainland pattern of divergence. Several factors may explain the absence of reduction for song duration and syllable diversity. Among those, relaxation of interspecific competition on islands may have led to an increase in syllable diversity, or correlations between song variables may have constrained song evolution. More studies on island species are needed to draw a better picture of divergence patterns and go beyond the confounding ecological factors that could explain peculiar song characteristics in islands.


Field based study. Song recordings.