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Am Nat. 1998 Mar;151(3):236-42. doi: 10.1086/286114.

Paternity and multiple signaling: effects of a secondary sexual character and song on paternity in the barn swallow.

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  • 1Laboratoire d'Ecologie, CNRS URA 258, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, 7 quai St. Bernard, Case 237, F-75252 Paris Cedex 05, France.


Multiple signals may evolve because they provide independent information on the condition of a signaler. Females should pay attention to male characters relative to their reliability as signals of male attractiveness or quality. Since behavioral traits are flexible and, therefore, subject to strong environmental influences, females should weigh stable morphological signals higher in their choice of mates for genetic benefits than flexible behavioral traits, for example, by paying particular attention to phenotypically plastic traits when produced in combination with an exaggerated morphological signal. Consistent with this prediction, female barn swallows Hirundo rustica, which are known to prefer males with the longest tail feathers (a secondary sexual character), also preferred males with extreme expressions of a behavioral trait (song rate), as determined from patterns of paternity assessed by microsatellites. However, a statistical interaction between tail length and song rate implied that song rate was relatively unimportant for males with a short tail but more important for longtailed males. Since song rate is a flexible behavioral trait, females appear to have responded to this flexibility by devaluing the importance of song rate in assessment of unattractive sires.

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