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Multiple receivers, multiple ornaments, and a trade-off between agonistic and epigamic signaling in a widowbird


, : Multiple receivers, multiple ornaments, and a trade-off between agonistic and epigamic signaling in a widowbird. American Naturalist 160(5): 683-691

Sexual displays often involve several different ornamental traits. Yet most indicator models of sexual selection based on a single receiver (usually a choosy female) find that multiple handicap signals should be unstable. Here we study reasons for this contradiction, analyzing signal function, signal content, and trade-offs between signals in the polygynous red-collared widowbird Euplectes ardens. Males have both a long, graduated tail and a red carotenoid collar badge. Territory-holding "residents" have slightly shorter tails than the nonbreeding "floaters," but their carotenoid collars are 40% larger, and they have (on the basis of reflectance spectrometry and objective colorimetry) a 23-nm more long-wave ("redder") hue than floaters. This corroborates experimental evidence that the red collar is selected by male contest competition, whereas female choice is based almost exclusively on male tail length. Tail length is negatively correlated with the carotenoid signal, which together with body size and condition explains 55% of the variation in tail length. The trade-off in tail length and carotenoid investment is steeper among residents, suggesting an interaction with costs of territory defense. We propose that the "multiple receiver hypothesis" can explain the coexistence of multiple handicap signals. Furthermore, the trade-off between signal expressions might contribute to the inverse relation between nuptial tail elongation and coloration in the genus Euplectes (bishops and widowbirds).

US$19.90

PMID: 18707516

DOI: 10.1086/342817


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