Karan Odom and Kevin Omland, Biological Sciences, Make Headlines for Bird Song Research

Published: Mar 6, 2014

Karan Odom and Kevin Omland, biological sciences, recently made headlines around the world with a Nature Communications article that challenges the assumption that bird song is an exclusively male trait resulting from sexual selection.

Odom, a Ph.D. student in Omland’s lab, led a team of researchers from UMBC, the University of Melbourne in Australia, Leiden University in the Netherlands and the Australian National University in this groundbreaking work. The researchers completed an extensive global study of songbirds and found that 71% of songbirds surveyed had female song. They also mapped the traits of female song onto an evolutionary tree, which revealed that the common ancestor of modern songbirds also had female song.

These findings raise questions about Darwin’s understanding of bird song. Mike Webster, director of the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, explains, “The standard thinking is that competition for mates has led to the evolution of bright colors and loud songs in males, whereas selection for avoidance of predators has led to females that are cryptically colored and relatively quiet. This study by Odom et al. stands this view on its head by showing that singing females are actually quite widespread, and also that females sang in the ancestor of all modern songbirds.”

Odom says this research opens the door for exploring alternative evolutionary scenarios and processes that Darwin might not have considered with regard to the evolution of bird song.

Coverage of the study has already appeared in outlets from the BBC World Service Newshour [jump to 48:20], to Germany’s Der Spiegel, to Australia’s ABC Radio National. Additional news links are included below, and we will continue adding links as new coverage appears.

Additional Coverage:
Female Song Birds Turn Darwin’s Theory Upside Down (WYPR)
Not Just Males: Common Ancestor Of Modern Songbirds Had Female Song (Science 2.0)
Sing a song of bird phylogeny (ScienceNews)
Prominence of Female Birdsong Challenges Evolutionary Theory (Nature World News)
Bird song – it’s not just a male gig (Phys.org)
Birdsong is not all about sexual selection: Female birds sing much more often than previously thought (Science Daily)
Female Song Birds Do Sing And Charles Darwin Got It Wrong (Business Insider)
Delightful duets prove Darwin slightly off-key over birdsong (Canberra Times)
Female birds sing songs as sweetly (Australian Life Scientist)
According to the study of ANU: Female birds song is different from males (Periscope Post)
Darwin wrong about the birds and bees (The Times)
Female birds rival males in bird song: ANU study (Xinhua)
Vogelgesang ist keine Männerdomäne (Die Welt and Berliner Morgenpost)
Bird Song Almost as Common in Female Birds as in Males: Study (Newspoint Africa)
Female birds sing songs: Was Charles Darwin wrong? (Zee News)
Bird song not exclusively male trait, reports say (The Hindu)
Evolution: Female songbirds make themselves heard (Nature Asia)
Keine “Männerdomäne” – Auch Vogelweibchen singen (Schweizerbauer)
Ganz Was Neues: Vogel Weibchen Können Singen (Taz.de)
Viele Vogelweibchen singen (Weser Kurier)
Emanzipierte Vogelweibchen (Achtung, Wolf!)
Vogel tjilpt om gebied te verdedigen (en dus niet om vrouwtjes te lokken) (Volkskrant)
Auch die Weibchen singen (Wiener Zeitung)
A tojók is rendszeresen énekelnek (Index)
Veel vrouwtjesvogels zingen ook (NRC)
Vrouwelijke zangvogels hebben veel meer noten op hun zang dan gedacht (Scientias)
Vrouwelijke zangvogel zingt vaker dan gedacht (NU)
Vrouwtjesvogels zingen veel vaker dan gedacht (University of Leiden)
Vrouwtjesvogels blijken toch te zingen (Wetenschap 24)
Weibchen trällern meist so schön wie Männchen (Deutschlandfunk)


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