Geographic Variation in the Function of Ornaments in the Common Yellowthroat

Document Type


Publication Date


Published In

Journal of Avian Biology








We used controlled aviary experiments to study the role of male ornaments in male-male competition and female choice in the common yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas, a sexually dichromatic warbler. Previous aviary studies in Wisconsin, USA, indicated that males with larger black facial masks were dominant over males with smaller masks and preferred by females in mate choice experiments. In this study, we replicated those experiments in a population in New York, USA, where male mating success was related more consistently to the size of the yellow bib (throat, breast, and belly) than to the size of the mask. Similar to the study in Wisconsin, we found that males with larger masks were more likely to be dominant in New York, however, we found that males with larger bibs were preferred by females in New York, and there was no significant preference for males with larger masks. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that carotenoid-based ornaments are selected by female choice and melanin-based ornaments are selected by male-male competition. However, the pattern of female choice appears to vary between New York and Wisconsin. This geographic difference could be related to a variety of environmental factors (habitat, carotenoid and parasite abundance) that affect the costs and benefits of choosing males with particular ornaments in each location.