To understand the implications of geographical variation in vocal culture in songbirds, researchers have often compared territorial responses to playback of local songs versus responses to playback of songs from ‘foreign’ conspecifics. This body of work has the potential to help us move towards a general understanding of factors driving divergence in signal recognition. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 57 playback studies to explain variation in strength of response to local versus foreign songs. Studies with incomplete reporting of results had elevated effects due to selective reporting. Studies that used small numbers of stimuli as exemplars (pseudoreplication) had more variable effects than studies without severe pseudoreplication. Whether or not we controlled for pseudoreplication, we found greater response to playback of local song than to foreign song. In investigating potential biological drivers of the variation in strength of experimental effects, we found that the difference in territorial response to local versus foreign song was stronger if the foreign song was recorded from another subspecies than if the foreign song was recorded from the same subspecies as the focal individuals. Indexes of risk of accidental response to heterospecific song did not coherently explain response to foreign conspecific songs, nor did factors expected to influence individual experience with foreign conspecific songs. Thus, although oscine songbirds clearly react more aggressively to local song than to foreign song and variation in the strength of this effect is influenced by methodological choices and subspecies status, considerable variation in the strength of response to local versus foreign song playback remains to be explained.
- deceptive mimicry
- selective reporting