A genomic basis of vocal rhythm in birds

Matteo Sebastianelli, Sifiso M. Lukhele, Simona Secomandi, Stacey G. de Souza, Bettina Haase, Michaella Moysi, Christos Nikiforou, Alexander Hutfluss, Jacquelyn Mountcastle, Jennifer Balacco, Sarah Pelan, William Chow, Olivier Fedrigo, Colleen T. Downs, Ara Monadjem, Niels J. Dingemanse, Erich D. Jarvis, Alan Brelsford, Bridgett M. vonHoldt, Alexander N.G. Kirschel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Vocal rhythm plays a fundamental role in sexual selection and species recognition in birds, but little is known of its genetic basis due to the confounding effect of vocal learning in model systems. Uncovering its genetic basis could facilitate identifying genes potentially important in speciation. Here we investigate the genomic underpinnings of rhythm in vocal non-learning Pogoniulus tinkerbirds using 135 individual whole genomes distributed across a southern African hybrid zone. We find rhythm speed is associated with two genes that are also known to affect human speech, Neurexin-1 and Coenzyme Q8A. Models leveraging ancestry reveal these candidate loci also impact rhythmic stability, a trait linked with motor performance which is an indicator of quality. Character displacement in rhythmic stability suggests possible reinforcement against hybridization, supported by evidence of asymmetric assortative mating in the species producing faster, more stable rhythms. Because rhythm is omnipresent in animal communication, candidate genes identified here may shape vocal rhythm across birds and other vertebrates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3095
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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