Carotenoid and Melanin-Based Ornaments Signal Similar Aspects of Male Quality in Two Populations of the Common Yellowthroat

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Functional Ecology









1. Female preferences for particular male ornaments may shift between populations as a consequence of ecological differences that change the reliability and detectability of the ornament, but few studies have examined how ornaments function in different populations.

2. We examined the signalling function of male plumage ornaments in a warbler, the common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas), breeding in New York (NY) and Wisconsin (WI), USA. Males have two prominent ornaments: a black facial mask pigmented with melanin and a yellow bib pigmented by carotenoids. Previous studies in WI indicate that the size of the mask, and not the bib, is primarily related to female choice and male reproductive success. In NY, however, the pattern is reversed and attributes of the bib (size and colour), and not the mask, are the target of sexual selection.

3.  We found that brightness of the yellow bib was the best signal of humoral immunity (immunoglobulin G) in NY and mask size was the best signal in WI, after controlling for breeding experience and capture date. Thus, similar aspects of male quality appeared to be signalled by different ornaments in different populations.

4.  There was no difference between populations in the level of plasma carotenoids or the prevalence of malarial parasites, which may affect the costs and benefits of choosing males with particular ornaments in each location.

5. Even though females in different populations prefer different ornaments produced by different types of pigments, these ornaments appear to be signalling similar aspects of male quality. Our results caution against inferring the function of particular ornaments based simply on their type of pigment.


carotenoids, habitat, immunity, intraspecific variation, multiple ornaments, melanin, sexually selected traits