Phylogeny and species traits predict bird detectability

18 December 2017

Sólymos, Péter; Matsuoka, Steven; Stralberg, Diana; Barker, Nicole; Bayne, Erin M.

Avian acoustic communication has resulted from evolutionary pressures and ecological constraints. We therefore expect that auditory detectability in birds might be predictable by species traits and phylogenetic relatedness. We evaluated the relationship between phylogeny, species traits, and field-based estimates of the two processes of that determine species detectability (singing rate and detection distance) for 141 bird species breeding in boreal North America. We used phylogenetic mixed models and cross-validation to compare the relative merits of using trait data only, phylogeny only, or the combination of both to predict detectability. We found a strong phylogenetic signal in both singing rates and detection distances; however the strength of phylogenetic effects was less than expected under Brownian motion evolution. The evolution of behavioural traits that determine singing rates was found to be more labile, leaving more room for species to evolve independently, whereas detection distance was mostly determined by anatomy (i.e. body size) and thus the laws of physics. Our findings can help in disentangling how complex ecological and evolutionary mechanisms have shaped different aspects of detectability in boreal birds. Such information can greatly inform single- and multi-species models but more work is required to better understand how to best correct possible biases in phylogenetic diversity and other community metrics.