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Behav Ecol Sociobiol. 2007;61(12):1839-1846.

The effect of rearing environment on blue structural coloration of eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis).

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  • 1Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior, Indiana University, 402 N. Park Ave., Bloomington, IN 47405, USA e-mail: lsieffer@indiana.edu.


We used a brood-size manipulation to test the effect of rearing environment on structural coloration of feathers grown by eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) nestlings. Ultraviolet (UV)-blue structural coloration has been shown to be sexually selected in this species. Our experimental design took advantage of the growth of UV-blue wing feathers in nestlings that are retained as part of the first nuptial plumage. We cross-fostered nestlings to create enlarged and reduced broods with the purpose of manipulating parental feeding rates and measured the effect on nestling growth and plumage coloration. Brood size influenced feeding rates to offspring, but the effect varied with season. In general, male nestlings reared in reduced broods were fed more often, weighed more, and displayed brighter structural plumage compared to nestlings reared in enlarged broods. Female nestlings appeared to experience less adverse affects of brood enlargement, and we did not detect an effect of brood-size manipulation on the plumage coloration of female nestlings. Measures of plumage coloration in both males and females, however, were correlated to hatching date and nestling mass during feather development. These data provide empirical evidence that environmental quality can influence the development of the blue structural coloration of feathers and that males may be more sensitive to environmental fluctuations than females.

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