Selective alarm call mimicry in the sexual display of the male superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae)

Publication Name

Evolutionary Ecology


Despite much research on mimicry, little is known about the ecology of dynamic mimetic signals involving mimicry of multiple species. Some of the most conspicuous examples of phenotypically plastic mimicry are produced by oscine passerines, where vocal production learning enables some species to mimic multiple models and flexibly adjust what they mimic and when. While singing from a perch, male superb lyrebirds (Menura novaehollandiae) accurately imitate multiple songs and calls of over 20 species of bird. However, at key moments within their multimodal displays performed on display arenas on the forest floor, males mimic a small number of mobbing-alarm calls creating the acoustic illusion of a mixed-species mobbing flock (‘D-song’). Using observations from camera footage and a field-based playback experiment, we tested six hypotheses for alarm call model selection within D-song. Mimicked species were remarkably invariant, with 79% of D-song made up of imitations of just three different bird species. Males did not mimic the most common species in their general environment, but neither did they mimic rare species. Instead, males imitated the mobbing-alarm calls of heterospecific birds that foraged on or near the forest floor. Indeed, males primarily mimicked the alarm calls of heterospecific species that foraged alongside lyrebirds and were likely to appear together in experimentally-induced, terrestrial mobbing flocks. These findings support the hypothesis that males mimic a cue of a terrestrial predatory threat to lyrebirds, most likely to exploit the antipredator behaviour of female lyrebirds. Our study illustrates the importance of investigating the drivers of model selection in dynamic multi-model mimicry.

Open Access Status

This publication may be available as open access

Funding Sponsor

University of Western Sydney



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