Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

    Many social animals use long-distance signals to attract mates and defend territories. They face the twin challenges of discriminating between species to identify conspecific mates, and between individuals to recognize collaborators and competitors. It is therefore often assumed that long-distance signals are under strong selection for species-specificity and individual distinctiveness, and that this will drive character displacement when closely related species meet, particularly in noisy environments. However, the occurrence of signal stereotypy and convergence in rainforest species seems to contradict these ideas, and raises the question of whether receivers in these systems can recognize species or individuals by long-distance signals alone. Here, we test for acoustically mediated recognition in two sympatric antbird species that are known to have convergent songs. We show that male songs are stereotyped yet individually distinctive, and we use playback experiments to demonstrate that females can discriminate not only between conspecific and heterospecific males, but between mates and strangers. These findings provide clear evidence that stereotypy and convergence in male signals can be accommodated by fine tuning of perceptual abilities in female receivers, suggesting that the evolutionary forces driving divergent character displacement in animal signals are weaker than is typically assumed.

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