Year-round resource defence and the evolution of male and female song in suboscine birds: social armaments are mutual ornaments

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The evolution of sexually monomorphic (i.e. mutual) ornamentation has attracted growing attention as a ‘blind-spot’ in evolutionary biology. The popular consensus is that female ornaments are subject to the same modes of sexual selection as males: intrasexual competition and mate choice. However, it remains unclear how these forces interact within and between sexes, or whether they fully capture selection on female traits. One possibility is that the ‘armament–ornament’ model – which proposes that traits used primarily in male-male contests are also co-opted by females as indicators of male quality – can be extended to explain signal evolution in both sexes. We examine this idea by testing the function of acoustic signals in two species of duetting antbirds. Behavioural observations and playback experiments suggest that male and female songs function primarily as armaments in competitive interactions. Removal experiments reveal that song is also a classic ornament used by unpaired males and females to advertise for mates. These results indicate that ‘armament–ornament’ processes may operate in reciprocal format, potentially explaining widespread mutual ornamentation in species with elevated intrasexual competition for resources. In addition, given that songs mediate competition between species outside the breeding season, our findings suggest that processes shaping monomorphic ornaments extend beyond the traditional definitions of sexual selection and are best understood in the broader framework of social selection.

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