Territorial song structures are often the most prominent characters for distinguishing closely related taxa among songbirds. Learning processes may cause convergent evolution of passerine songs, but phylogenetic information of acoustic traits can be investigated with the help of molecular phylogenies, which are not affected by cultural evolutionary processes. We used a phylogeny based on cytochrome b sequences to trace the evolution of territorial song within the genus Regulus. Five discrete song units are defined as basic components of regulid song via sonagraphic measurements. Traits of each unit are traced on a molecular tree and a mean acoustic character difference between taxon pairs is calculated. Acoustic divergence between regulid taxa correlates strongly with genetic distances. Syntax features of complete songs and of single units are most consistent with the molecular data, whereas the abundance of certain element types is not. Whether song characters are innate or learned was interpreted using hand-reared birds in aviary experiments. We found that convergent character evolution seems to be most probable for learned acoustic traits. We conclude that syntax traits of whole verses or subunits of territorial song, especially innate song structures, are the most reliable acoustic traits for phylogenetic reconstructions in Regulus.
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Vol. 57 • No. 3