Song dialects do not restrict gene flow in an urban population of the orange-tufted sunbird, Nectarinia osea

Noam Leader*, Eli Geffen, Ofer Mokady, Yoram Yom-Tov

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Geographic variation in vocalizations is widespread in passerine birds, but its origins and maintenance remain unclear. In this study, we test the hypothesis that song dialect, a culturally transmitted trait, is related to the population genetic structure of the orange-tufted sunbird, Nectarinia osea. To address this, we compared mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence variation together with allele frequencies at five microsatellite loci from an urban population of sunbirds exhibiting two distinct song dialects on a microgeographic scale. Our findings reveal no association between dialect membership and genetic composition. All genetic measures, from both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA, indicate high levels of gene flow between both dialect populations. The low FST values obtained from mtDNA and microsatellite analysis imply that the variation among dialects does not account for more than 2%, at best, of the overall genetic variation found in the entire population. These measures fall well within the range of similar measures obtained in other studies of species exhibiting vocal dialects, most of which fail to detect any dialect-based genetic differentiation. The persistence of dialects in the orange-tufted sunbird may thus best be explained by dispersal of individuals across dialect boundaries and possibly from surrounding areas, followed by postdispersal vocal matching. Because genetic structuring appears weaker than cultural structure in this species, we discuss the behavioral mechanisms underlying dialect maintenance in the presence of apparent gene flow.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1299-1305
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 2008


  • Birdsong
  • Cultural evolution
  • Gene flow
  • Nectarinia osea
  • Population genetic structure
  • Vocal dialects


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