Sexual selection and the function of a melanin-based plumage ornament in polygamous penduline tits Remiz pendulinus

S A Kingma, I Szentirmai, T Szekely, V Bokony, M Bleeker, A Liker, J Komdeur

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Melanin-based ornaments are often involved in signaling aggression and dominance, and their role in sexual selection is increasingly recognized. We investigated the functions of a melanin-based plumage ornament (facial 'mask') in male Eurasian penduline tits Remiz pendulinus in the contexts of male-male aggression, mating success, and parental care. The penduline tit is a passerine bird with a unique mating system in which both sexes may mate with several mates in a breeding season, and one (or both) parent deserts the clutch. Our study revealed that mask size of males is more likely an honest signal used by females in their mate choice decisions than a trait involved in male-male competition. First, mask size increased with both age and body condition, indicating that the mask may signal male quality. Second, males with larger masks paired more quickly and had more mates over the breeding season than males with smaller masks. Third, we found no evidence that male mask size signals male-male aggression or dominance during competitive encounters. The increased mating success of large-masked males, however, did not translate into higher reproductive success, as nestling survival decreased with mask size. Therefore, we conclude that there is either no directional selection on male mask size or males with larger masks receive indirect, long-term benefits.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1277-1288
Number of pages12
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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