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J Evol Biol. 2008 Jan;21(1):226-233. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2007.01451.x. Epub 2007 Nov 22.

Female coloration indicates female reproductive capacity in blue tits.

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CEFE CNRS, 1919 Rte de Mende, Montpellier Cedex, FranceUniversity of the Aegean, University Hill, Mytilini, Greece.


It is poorly understood whether female morphological and behavioural traits can be used as 'signals'. In particular, experimental tests of the hypothesis that female ornaments reflect quality are scarce. Here, we experimentally examine whether female plumage coloration might signal maternal quality in the blue tit, Cyanistes caeruleus by forcing half of the females breeding in our population to produce a replacement clutch. Using statistical models that controlled for the effects of male coloration, and the effects of age and condition of both parents, we found that carotenoid-based female coloration was positively linked to key proxies of bird lifetime reproductive success: clutch size, fledgling success and recruitment. Importantly, the relationships between maternal yellow carotenoid coloration and both clutch size and recruitment were stronger in the experimental group than in the control group, indicating that breeding females with higher values of yellow coloration were better able to handle the cost of producing a second clutch. Finally, UV-blue female coloration was positively linked to female survival and marginally linked to laying date. Taken together, these results show for the first time in a natural population that female coloration can indicate individual and maternal quality under natural and adverse reproductive conditions. They highlight the potential for the evolution of female ornamental traits through sexual selection.

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