Biogeography predicts macro-evolutionary patterning of gestural display complexity in a passerine family

Meredith C. Miles, Samantha Cheng, Matthew J. Fuxjager

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

8 Scopus citations


Gestural displays are incorporated into the signaling repertoire of numerous animal species. These displays range from complex signals that involve impressive and challenging maneuvers, to simpler displays or no gesture at all. The factors that drive this evolution remain largely unclear, and we therefore investigate this issue in New World blackbirds by testing how factors related to a species’ geographical distribution and social mating system predict macro-evolutionary patterns of display elaboration. We report that species inhabiting temperate regions produce more complex displays than species living in tropical regions, and we attribute this to (i) ecological factors that increase the competitiveness of the social environment in temperate regions, and (ii) different evolutionary and geological contexts under which species in temperate and tropical regions evolved. Meanwhile, we find no evidence that social mating system predicts species differences in display complexity, which is consistent with the idea that gestural displays evolve independently of social mating system. Together, these results offer some of the first insight into the role played by geographic factors and evolutionary context in the evolution of the remarkable physical displays of birds and other vertebrates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1406-1416
Number of pages11
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2017
Externally publishedYes



  • Animal communication
  • biogeography
  • gestural signal
  • multimodal display
  • New World blackbirds
  • sexual selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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