Phylogenetic Ethology and Sexual Selection Mechanisms

I have long term interests in the evolution of avian behavior, including polygynous courtship display, breeding systems, communication, and nest architecture and construction. I am interested in using phylogenetic hypothesis to test hypotheses about behavioral evolution, and in using behavioral variation to reconstruct phylogenetic hypotheses. Most of these studies have focused on a clade of highly diverse perching birds– the suboscine passeriforms. The suboscines include an extraordinary ecological radiation in the Neotropics and a modest radiation in the Old World tropics.

My previous research in this area has focused primarily on behavioral evolution of a clade of Neotropical suboscine birds– the manakins (Pipridae). Manakins are a clade of 42 species that are well known for their polygynous, lek breeding systems, striking sexually dimorphic plumages, and elaborate courtship display behavior. I produced the first phylogenetic hypothesis for the manakin clade based on syringeal morphology (Prum 1992), and used this phylogenetic hypothesis to investigate the homology of display behavior elements and the evolution of complex behavioral repertoires (Prum 1990a); phylogenetic patterns in the evolution of alternative avian breeding systems (Prum 1994a); the evolution of alternative nonvocal mechanisms of acoustic communication (Prum 1998); and phylogenetic tests of alternative intersexual selection mechanisms (Prum 1997). These analyses have documented the congruence between phylogeny and patterns of behavioral diversification, the evolutionary patterns in breeding system evolution, and the probable role of arbitrary Fisherian mechanisms of intersexual selection in trait macroevolution within highly polygynous clades.

I have also expanded the manakin research program to examine the phylogeny and social behavior evolution of the more diverse sister group to the manakins– the cotingas (Cotingidae). In contrast with the primitively lekking manakin clade, the extensive social and ecological diversity of the cotingas will permit me to test hypotheses concerning the origins of polygynous social systems and consequent social signaling systems. I have been examining syringeal and other morphological variation within the cotingid clade to produce a phylogenetic hypothesis for the group, and I also have an expanding mitochondrial DNA sequences data set for the clade (Prum et al. 2000). I plan to use this phylogenetic hypothesis to test hypotheses about the correlated evolution of cotinga breeding and social systems in response to response to frugivorous and insectivorous diets in the clade. I will also examine phylogenetic patterns in the diversification of visual and acoustic modes of intersexual advertisement, sexual size dimorphism, and delayed plumage maturation within the cotingas.

I am also interested in the evolution of nest architecture. Dr. Kristof Zyskowski, a former Ph.D. student, and I have worked on a phylogenetic analysis of nest architecture and construction in the Neotropical ovenbirds (Furnariidae; Zyskowski and Prum 1999). I am also studying the ontogeny, homology, and evolution of nest architectural features in the Malagasy asities and Asian broadbills (Eurylaimidae).

In previous papers, I have documented that intersexual selection can create opportunities for trait/preference evolution. Contrary to most behavioral autecology, these phylogenetic data document the importance of Fisherian or arbitrary intersexual selection on macroevolution of trait diversity within clades (Prum 1997). I have previously proposed some macroevolutionary test of alternative intersexual selection models (Prum 1997), I am eager to pursue these studies to generate explicit macroevolutionary models of intersexual selection processes in collaboration with theoretical population geneticists.


Prum, R. O. 1985. Observations of the White-fronted Manakin (Pipra serena) in Suriname. Auk 102: 384-387.

Prum, R. O. 1986. The displays of the White-throated Manakin Corapipo gutturalis in Suriname. Ibis 128: 91-102.

Prum, R. O., and Johnson, A. E. 1987. Display behavior, foraging ecology and systematics of the Golden-winged Manakin (Masius chrysopterus). Wilson Bulletin 99: 521-539.

Prum, R. O., and Lanyon, W. E. 1989. Monophyly and phylogeny of the Schiffornis group (Tyrannoidea). Condor 91: 444-461.

Prum, R. O. 1990. Phylogenetic analysis of the evolution of display behavior in the neotropical manakins (Aves: Pipridae). Ethology 84: 202-231.

Prum, R. O. 1990. A test of the monophyly of the manakins (Pipridae) and cotingas (Cotingidae) based on morphology. Occasional Papers of the Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan 722: 1-44.

Prum, R. O. 1992. Syringeal morphology, phylogeny, and evolution of the Neotropical manakins (Aves: Pipridae). American Museum of Natural History Novitates 3043: 1-65.

Prum, R. O. 1994. Species status of the White-fronted Manakin, Lepidothrix serena (Pipridae), with comments on conservation biology. Condor 96: 692-702.

Prum, R. O. 1994. Phylogenetic analysis of the evolution of alternative social behavior in the manakins (Aves: Pipridae). Evolution 48: 1657-1675.

Mobley, J. A., and Prum, R. O. 1995. Phylogenetic relationships of the Cinnamon Tyrant, Neopipo cinnamomea, to the Tyrant Flycatchers (Tyrannidae). Condor 97: 650-662.

Prum, R. O., Kaplan, J. A., and Pierson, J. D. 1996. Display behavior and natural history of the Yellow-crowned Manakin (Heterocercus flavivertex: Pipridae). Condor 98: 722-735.

Prum, R. O. 1997. Phylogenetic tests of alternative intersexual selection mechanisms: macroevolution of male traits in a polygynous clade (Aves: Pipridae). American Naturalist 149: 668-692.

Prum, R. O., and Razafindratsita, V. R. 1997. Lek behavior and natural history of the Velvet Asity Philepitta castanea (Eurylaimidae). Wilson Bulletin 109: 371-392.

Prum, R. O. 1998. Sexual selection and the evolution of mechanical sound production in manakins (Aves: Pipridae). Animal Behaviour 55: 977-994.

Zyskowski, K., and Prum, R. O. 1999. Phylogenetic analysis of nest architecture of the Neotropical ovenbirds (Furnariidae). Auk 116: 891-911.

Prum, R. O., Rice, N. H., Mobley, J. A., and Dimmick, W. W. 2000. A preliminary phylogenetic hypothesis for the cotingas (Cotingidae) based on mitochondrial DNA. Auk 117: 236-241.

Prum, R. O. 2001. A new genus for the Andean green pihas (Cotingidae). Ibis 143: 307-309.

Bostwick, K. S. and Prum, R. O. 2003. High-speed video of wing-snapping in two manakin clades (Pipridae: Aves). Journal of Experimental Biology 206: 3693-3706.

Prum, R. O., and Razafindratsita, V. R. 2003. Philepittinae. Pp. 1123- 1130, In The Natural History of Madagascar. Eds. S. M. Goodman and J. P. Benstead. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois.

Bostwick, K. S. and Prum, R. O. 2005. Courting bird sings with stridulating wing feathers. Science 309: 736.

Anciães, M. and Prum, R. O. 2008. Manakin display and visiting behavior: a comparative test of sensory drive. Animal Behaviour 75: 783-790.