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Open Access Research article

Multiple differences in calling songs and other traits between solitary and gregarious Mormon crickets from allopatric mtDNA clades

Nathan W Bailey1*, Darryl T Gwynne2, William V Bailey3 and Michael G Ritchie3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, Spieth Hall, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521, USA

2 Biology Department, University of Toronto at Missisauga, Missisauga, Ontario L5L 1C6, Canada

3 School of Biology, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Fife KY16 9TH, UK

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:5  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-5

Published: 22 January 2007



In acoustic species, traits such as male calling song are likely to diverge quickly between allopatric populations due to sexual selection, and divergence in parameters such as carrier frequency, chirp structure, and other important song characters can influence sexual isolation. Here we make use of two forms of Mormon crickets to examine differences in a broad suite of traits that have the potential to influence speciation via sexual isolation. Mormon crickets in "gregarious" populations aggregate into dense migratory bands, and females are the sexually competitive sex (sex-role reversal). There is also a non-outbreak "solitary" form. These two forms are largely but not perfectly correlated with a significant mtDNA subdivision within the species that is thought to have arisen in allopatry. Combined information about multiple, independently evolving traits, such as morphology and structural and behavioural differences in calling song, provides greater resolution of the overall differences between these allopatric populations, and allows us to assess their stage of divergence. We test two predictions, first that the forms differ in song and second that gregarious males are more reluctant to sing than solitary males due to sex role reversal. We also tested for a difference in the relationship between the size of the forewing resonator, the mirror, and carrier frequency, as most models of sound production in crickets indicate that mirror size should predict carrier frequency.


Multivariate analyses showed that solitary and gregarious individuals from different populations representing the two mtDNA clades had almost non-overlapping distributions based on multiple song and morphological measurements. Carrier frequency differed between the two, and gregarious males were more reluctant to sing overall. Mirror size predicted carrier frequency; however, the relationship between mirror size and surface area varied between solitary and gregarious forms, suggesting that factors above and beyond mirror size contribute to carrier frequency.


The two clades of Mormon crickets differ in a broad suite of independent traits that probably justify subspecies status (the two can successfully mate so may not be reproductively isolated). However, our results emphasize the importance of carefully distinguishing the ultimate causation of differences between traits used to delineate species or subspecies boundaries.