The origins of acoustic communication in vertebrates

Zhuo Chen, John J. Wiens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


Acoustic communication is crucial to humans and many other tetrapods, including birds, frogs, crocodilians, and mammals. However, large-scale patterns in its evolution are largely unstudied. Here, we address several fundamental questions about the origins of acoustic communication in terrestrial vertebrates (tetrapods), using phylogenetic methods. We show that origins of acoustic communication are significantly associated with nocturnal activity. We find that acoustic communication does not increase diversification rates, a surprising result given the many speciation-focused studies of frog calls and bird songs. We also demonstrate that the presence of acoustic communication is strongly conserved over time. Finally, we find that acoustic communication evolved independently in most major tetrapod groups, often with remarkably ancient origins (~100–200 million years ago). Overall, we show that the role of ecology in shaping signal evolution applies to surprisingly deep timescales, whereas the role of signal evolution in diversification may not.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number369
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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