In a recent article in Biology Letters, researchers found that two vireo species exhibited high plasticity in their songs when confronted with increased ambient noise, but that changes in songs were not predictable. Read on for more...
Clinton D. Francis, Catherine P. Ortega, Alexander Cruz
Anthropogenic noise, now common to many landscapes, can impair acoustic communication for many species, yet some birds compensate for masking by noise by altering their songs. The phylogenetic distribution of these noise-dependent signal adjustments is uncertain, and it is not known whether closely related species respond similarly to noise. Here, we investigated the influence of noise on habitat occupancy rates and vocal frequency in two congeneric vireos with similar song features. Noise exposure did not influence occupancy rates for either species, yet song features of both changed, albeit in different ways. With increases in noise levels, plumbeous vireos (Vireo plumbeus) sang shorter songs with higher minimum frequencies. By contrast, grey vireos (Vireo vicinior) sang longer songs with higher maximum frequencies. These findings support the notion that vocal plasticity may help some species occupy noisy areas, but because there were no commonalities among the signal changes exhibited by these closely related birds, it may be difficult to predict how diverse species may modify their signals in an increasingly noisy world.