Clinal variation in vocalizations of an antbird (Thamnophilidae) and implications for defining species limits

Morton L. Isler, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Phyllis R. Isler, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Robb T. Brumfield, University of Washington, Seattle


In avian taxa in which vocalizations are considered innate, such as suboscine passerines, vocal characters are increasingly being used to help determine whether populations have achieved species status. In comparing vocal characteristics of distant populations, however, one must be concerned with the possibility of character gradation through intermediate populations. The first quantitative study of a species in a suboscine family to test for clinal vocal variation, our vocal study found clinal variation in the pace (number of notes per second) of male loudsongs, and revealed that the geographic pattern of the clines was consistent with genetic variation found in the companion molecular study (Brumfield 2005). The result underscores the necessity of searching for intermediacy when analyzing vocalizations of geographically distant populations. Furthermore, given that male loudsong pace was the only vocal character that varied across the intergrading populations, the result also provides support to the guideline that one should expect thamnophilid species to differ in at least three vocal characters (Isler et al. 1998) and indicates that this degree of vocal character differences can be a valuable "yard stick" in determining which thamnophilid populations have achieved biological species status. © The American Ornithologists' Union, 2005.