Hermit Warblers (Setophaga occidentalis) sing a formulaic, type I song to attract mates, in contrast to a repertoire of more complex, type II songs to defend territories. A single, dominant type I song, or a low diversity of type I songs, often occur within a geographic area. We provide the first comprehensive description of Hermit Warbler type I song variants throughout California, USA. We recorded type I songs from 1,588 males across 101 study sites in the state from April through July 2009–2014. Using those locations and a pre-existing range map of the species, we created a maximum entropy-based breeding habitat suitability map and classified the songs into 35 variants using a typological rubric. We validated consistent classification of songs for 87.5% of the birds. We then modeled the effects of recent fire history at the local scale (10 yr, 315 km2), the amount of breeding habitat at the regional scale (8,000 km2), and the distance between territories to examine factors involved in song sameness at the local scale. We found that the probability of different birds singing the same form declined with the amount of local fire, regional habitat, and distance, and that these findings were robust to uncertainty in our song classification rubric. Using a longitudinal analysis including additional data from 10 study areas revisited in 2019, we showed that song structure within forms had drifted since our initial visits 5–10 yr earlier, and that the evenness (e.g., Simpson's measure) of song forms increased at locations that had been burned by wildfire between visits. Taken together, the results suggest that wildfires and the mass effects of dispersal of birds singing rival song forms disrupt the uniformity of type I songs locally. The results demonstrate how species traits, such as birdsong, can be used to disentangle the ecological processes that regulate observed patterns in biodiversity. Further investigation is recommended to determine whether song pattern dynamics reflect underlying genetic differences and habitat specializations among subpopulations.
The diversity of song dialects sung by Hermit Warblers in California forests is influenced by fire history.
After exhaustive surveys of >1,500 birds, we mapped the distribution of 35 song dialects throughout the state.
Our results suggest that differences among these songs were generated as an epiphenomenon of different subpopulations specializing on different forest types.
Dispersal due to fire, and the mass effects of birds from surrounding forests, likely disrupts the uniformity of song dialects within locations, thereby promoting dynamic diversity over the longer term.