Interspecific dominance via vocal interactions mediates altitudinal zonation in neotropical singing mice

Bret Pasch, Benjamin M. Bolker, Steven M. Phelps

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Interspecific aggression between ecologically similar species may influence geographic limits by mediating competitive exclusion at the range edge. Advertisement signals that mediate competitive interactions within species may also provide social information that contributes to behavioral dominance and spatial segregation among species. We studied the mechanisms underlying altitudinal range limits in Neotropical singing mice (Scotinomys), a genus of muroid rodent in which males vocalize to repel rivals and attract mates. We first delineated replacement zones and described temperature regimes on three mountains in Costa Rica and Panama where Chiriqui{dotless}́ singing mice (S. xerampelinus) abruptly replace Alston's singing mice (S. teguina). Next, we conducted interspecific behavioral trials and reciprocal removal experiments to examine if interspecific aggression mediated species replacement. Finally, we performed reciprocal playback experiments to investigate whether response to song matched competitive interactions. Behavioral trials and removal experiments suggest that S. xerampelinus is behaviorally dominant and excludes S. teguina from higher, cooler altitudes. Playback experiments indicate that subordinate S. teguina is silenced and repelled by heterospecific song, whereas S. xerampelinus responded to heterospecifics with approach and song rates comparable to responses to conspecifics. Thus, interspecific communication reflects underlying dominance and suggests that acoustic signaling contributes to altitudinal zonation of ecologically similar congeners. Our findings implicate the use of social information in structuring spatial distributions of animal communities across landscapes and provide insight into how large-scale patterns are generated by individual interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E161-E173
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Acoustic communication
  • Altitudinal replacement
  • Interspecific aggression
  • Reciprocal playback
  • Social information
  • Species interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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