Evolution of song and its role in bird speciation

Understanding how one species can split into two is one of the most pressing questions in evolutionary biology, and requires detailed knowledge on the interplay of natural and sexual selection with gene flow in a given geographical and ecological context. For songbirds, vocalisations can be a powerful evolutionary force restricting gene flow, and consequently promoting speciation.

I aim to explore the role of vocalisations in population divergence in two well-studied avian radiations: chaffinches from La Palma and grey white-eyes from Reunion. I will analyse songs and calls and will conduct field experiments to confront this information with existing data on population history, morphology, and ecology, in an integrative approach.

The Scops-owl of Príncipe Island: a new species to science

The presence of an undescribed owl on Príncipe Island was only confirmed in 2016, though the search for a ‘mystery owl’ had begun almost 20 years earlier. For my MSc thesis I analysed genetic, morphologic and bioacoustic data of different scops-owl species to confirm species status and to enable the formal description of Otus bikegila (Melo et al. 2022). I also did fieldwork to map the owl’s distribution, infer habitat requirements, estimate population size, and assess the threat category for this species, informing conservation strategies (Freitas et al. 2023).

Afterwards, I tested the performance of automatic sound recorders and automated song detection for owl monitoring in Príncipe and I also investigated more deeply the characteristics of the vocalizations of this owl (Freitas et al. 2023). Currently, I am collaborating with Martim Melo and Fundação Príncipe to put in practice this automatic workflow for acoustic monitoring of the Scops owl and other threatened species on Príncipe Island.