Urban birdsongs: higher minimum song frequency of an urban colonist persists in a common garden experiment


Environmental changes caused by urbanization and noise pollution can have profound effects on acoustic communication. Many organisms use higher sound frequencies in urban environments with low-frequency noise, but the developmental and evolutionary mechanisms underlying these shifts are less clear. We used a common garden experiment to ask whether changes in minimum song frequency observed 30 years after a songbird colonized an urban environment are a consequence of behavioral flexibility or canalized changes that occur early in development. We captured male juvenile dark-eyed juncos ( Junco hyemalis thurberi ) from two recently diverged populations (urban and mountain) soon after they reached independence (aged 25-40 days), raised them in identical indoor aviaries, and studied their songs at an age of three years. We found that the large population difference in minimum frequency observed in the field persisted undiminished in the common garden despite the absence of noise. We also found some song sharing between the common garden and natal field populations, indicating that early song memorization before capture could contribute to the persistent song differences in adulthood. These results are the first to show that frequency shifts in urban birdsong are maintained in the absence of noise by genetic evolution and/or early life experiences.


Reichard, D. G., Atwell, J. W., Pandit, M. M., Cardoso, G. C., Price, T. D., & Ketterson, E. D. 2019. Urban birdsongs: higher minimum song frequency of an urban colonist persists in a common garden experiment. bioRxiv. 761734.

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