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Oecologia. 2005 Dec;146(3):496-504. Epub 2005 Oct 27.

Female throat ornamentation does not reflect cell-mediated immune response in bluethroats Luscinia s. svecica.

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Department of Biology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), 7491, Trondheim, Norway.


The brilliantly coloured throat patch in male bluethroats, Luscinia s. svecica, influences their social mating success and both within- and extra-pair paternity. Female bluethroats are highly variable in their extent of throat coloration, from entirely drab to almost male-like. The ornament in females could be due to a genetic correlation between the sexes. However, it has been shown that male bluethroats prefer brightly coloured females, suggesting that female ornamentation has evolved by direct sexual selection on females through male choice. Males may prefer extravagant traits in females if these reliably signal female quality, such as resistance to disease. We investigated whether variation in the extent of structural and melanin plumage ornamentation in female bluethroats reflects cell-mediated immune response. We caught the females at their nests and measured their immune response as a swelling following a challenge by phytohemagglutinin. An analysis of the data from two years of study revealed that the cell-mediated immune response was not related to female ornamentation. However, the immune response was strongly correlated with female body condition. Thus, our results do not support the hypothesis that female ornament expression signals quality in terms of cell-mediated immunity.

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