Physiological costs and age constraints of a sexual ornament: an experimental study in a wild bird

McQueen, Alexandra, Delhey, K, Szecsenyi, B, Crino, A, Roast, MJ and Peters, A 2021, Physiological costs and age constraints of a sexual ornament: an experimental study in a wild bird, Behavioral ecology, vol. 32, no. 2, Mar/Apr, pp. 327-338, doi: 10.1093/beheco/araa143.

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Title Physiological costs and age constraints of a sexual ornament: an experimental study in a wild bird
Author(s) McQueen, AlexandraORCID iD for McQueen, Alexandra
Delhey, K
Szecsenyi, B
Crino, A
Roast, MJ
Peters, A
Journal name Behavioral ecology
Volume number 32
Issue number 2
Season Mar/Apr
Start page 327
End page 338
Total pages 12
Publisher Oxford University Press
Place of publication Oxford, Eng.
Publication date 2021-03
ISSN 1045-2249
Keyword(s) Behavioral Sciences
condition dependence
differential cost
Environmental Sciences & Ecology
honest signal
index signal
life history trade-off
Life Sciences & Biomedicine
Science & Technology
Summary Sexual ornaments are often considered honest signals of quality because potential costs or constraints prevent their display by low-quality individuals. Testing for potential physiological costs of ornaments is difficult, as this requires experimentally forcing individuals to produce and display elaborate ornaments. We use this approach to test whether a sexually selected trait is physiologically costly to male superb fairy-wrens (Malurus cyaneus). Male fairy-wrens molt from brown to blue breeding plumage at different times of the year, and females strongly prefer the few males that are blue early, during winter. We used short-acting testosterone implants to stimulate males to produce “early-blue” plumage and assessed costs during and after molt using a panel of physiological indices. Testosterone-implanted, T-males molted in winter and produced blue plumage 6 weeks before control-implanted, C-males. T-males molted while in lower body condition, tended to have lower fat reserves, and were more likely to be parasitized by lice. However, we detected no negative effects on immune function, blood parasites, exposure to stressors, or survival. Juvenile males never naturally display early-blue plumage, but we found no evidence for increased costs paid by juvenile T-males. Instead, juvenile T-males molted later than adult T-males, suggesting that age presents an absolute constraint on ornament exaggeration that cannot be fully overcome by testosterone treatment. Together, these small costs and large, age-related constraints may enforce signal honesty, and explain female preference for early-blue males.
Language eng
DOI 10.1093/beheco/araa143
Indigenous content off
Field of Research 0602 Ecology
0603 Evolutionary Biology
0608 Zoology
HERDC Research category C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal
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