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J Evol Biol. 2016 Feb;29(2):231-40. doi: 10.1111/jeb.12779. Epub 2015 Nov 12.

Early constraints in sexual dimorphism: survival benefits of feminized phenotypes.

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Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales-CSIC, Madrid, España.


Sexual dimorphism (SD) has evolved in response to selection pressures that differ between sexes. Since such pressures change across an individual's life, SD may vary within age classes. Yet, little is known about how selection on early phenotypes may drive the final SD observed in adults. In many dimorphic species, juveniles resemble adult females rather than adult males, meaning that out of the selective pressures established by sexual selection feminized phenotypes may be adaptive. If true, fitness benefits of early female-like phenotypes may constrain the expression of male phenotypes in adulthood. Using the common kestrel Falco tinnunculus as a study model, we evaluated the fitness advantages of expressing more feminized phenotypes at youth. Although more similar to adult females than to adult males, common kestrel fledglings are still sexually dimorphic in size and coloration. Integrating morphological and chromatic variables, we analysed the phenotypic divergence between sexes as a measure of how much each individual looks like the sex to which it belongs (phenotypic sexual resemblance, PSR). We then tested the fitness benefits associated with PSR by means of the probability of recruitment in the population. We found a significant interaction between PSR and sex, showing that in both sexes more feminized phenotypes recruited more into the population than less feminized phenotypes. Moreover, males showed lower PSR than females and a higher proportion of incorrect sex classifications. These findings suggest that the mechanisms in males devoted to resembling female phenotypes in youth, due to a trend to increase fitness through more feminized phenotypes, may provide a mechanism to constrain the SD in adulthood.


Falco tinnunculus; dichromatism; female appearance; juveniles; kestrel; size

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