Date of Award

Summer 7-5-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

First Advisor

Rebecca J. Safran

Second Advisor

Michael Breed

Third Advisor

Deane Bowers


A wealth of studies across diverse animal groups indicate the importance of sexual selection in shaping phenotypes within and across breeding populations. In recent decades, much research has focused on how divergent sexual selection pressures among populations may lead to speciation. For my first dissertation chapter, I performed a literature review on the causes and consequences of evolutionary divergence in acoustic signals and developed the acoustic window conceptual framework for understanding the contributions of selection, genetic drift, and evolutionary constraint to signal divergence. Further, I found that sexual selection explains acoustic differences between recently diverged populations of the best-studied taxa. However, the relative contributions of ecological selection, sexual selection, and drift to acoustic divergence have not typically been considered within the same study systems. The remainder of my dissertation used the Northern Hemisphere-distributed barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) species complex as a model system to study sender-receiver dynamics, intra- and intersexual selection pressures, and visual and acoustic signal interactions at the local scale, and signal divergence across populations at the global scale. From song recordings taken across 19 sampling sites, spanning five of six described subspecies, I demonstrated considerable conservation in song structure. However, temporal traits were highly divergent across subspecies, and in particular, the speed of the terminal trill of songs. In a detailed study of the multimodal communication system of the barn swallow (including visual and acoustic traits), I demonstrated that males and females use different types of signals to mediate competition and mate choice. One of the only exceptions to this rule was trill rate, which was also implicated in song divergence across populations. In order to test the function of trill rate in communication, I performed a two-year playback study within the North American subspecies, H. r. erythrogaster. Contrary to expectations, males did not have stronger responses to faster trilling (high performance) simulated intruders. Instead, resident males had stronger responses to the high performance stimulus only when the intruder was also darker than the resident. Collectively, my dissertation offers novel insight into the evolutionary dynamics of complex sexual signaling at multiple spatial scales.