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Elife. 2018 Nov 13;7. pii: e37385. doi: 10.7554/eLife.37385.

Meta-analysis challenges a textbook example of status signalling and demonstrates publication bias.

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Evolutionary Biology Group, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Seewiesen, Germany.
Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London, Ascot, United Kingdom.
School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sidney, Australia.
Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom.
Department of Animal Behaviour, Bielefeld University, Bielefeld, Germany.
Lendület Evolutionary Ecology Research Group, Plant Protection Institute, Centre for Agricultural Research, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary.
Department of Behavioural Ecology and Evolutionary Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Seewiesen, Germany.
MTA-PE Evolutionary Ecology Research Group, University of Pannonia, Veszprém, Hungary.
Department of Biology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, United States.


The status signalling hypothesis aims to explain within-species variation in ornamentation by suggesting that some ornaments signal dominance status. Here, we use multilevel meta-analytic models to challenge the textbook example of this hypothesis, the black bib of male house sparrows (Passer domesticus). We conducted a systematic review, and obtained primary data from published and unpublished studies to test whether dominance rank is positively associated with bib size across studies. Contrary to previous studies, the overall effect size (i.e. meta-analytic mean) was small and uncertain. Furthermore, we found several biases in the literature that further question the support available for the status signalling hypothesis. We discuss several explanations including pleiotropic, population- and context-dependent effects. Our findings call for reconsidering this established textbook example in evolutionary and behavioural ecology, and should stimulate renewed interest in understanding within-species variation in ornamental traits.


Passer domesticus; badge of status; dominance; ecology; meta-analysis; ornament; publication bias

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