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1.  Sexy sons: a dead end for cytoplasmic genes. 
Critics of sexual conflict theory argue that females may gain a net reproductive benefit from mating with manipulative males because the direct costs that they suffer may be offset by the production of sexy, i.e. manipulative, sons. However, this exclusive focus on nuclear gene effects represents an incomplete view of female fitness. Females differ fundamentally from males in transmitting not only nuclear genes but also a wide range of cytoplasmic genetic elements (CGEs) that can have profound effects, from male killing to influencing development of the nervous system and cognitive ability. Maternal transmission of CGEs has two major implications for sexual selection. First, the evolution of male fitness traits, such as sperm competitive ability, may be constrained because response to selection on mitochondrial genomes can occur only through the female line. Second, CGEs bear the direct costs of male manipulation but gain no indirect benefits when females produce sexy sons. This should result in perpetual antagonistic coevolution between nuclear genes involved in male manipulation and CGEs that promote female resistance to male sexually selected traits. Explicit consideration of the consequences of selection acting on CGEs is therefore necessary for a better understanding of the relationship between sexual selection and sexual conflict.
PMCID: PMC1810078  PMID: 15504002
2.  Carotenoid scarcity, synthetic pteridine pigments and the evolution of sexual coloration in guppies (Poecilia reticulata). 
Carotenoid-based sexual coloration is the classic example of an honest signal of mate quality. Animals cannot synthesize carotenoid pigments and ultimately depend on dietary sources. Thus, in carotenoid-poor environments, carotenoid coloration may be a direct indicator of foraging ability and an indirect indicator of health and vigour. Carotenoid coloration may also be affected, more directly, by parasites in some species. Carotenoids are not, however, the only conspicuous pigments available to animals. Pteridine pigments, with similar spectral properties, are displayed in the exoskeletons and wings of insects, the irides of birds and the skins of fishes, lizards and amphibians. Unlike carotenoids, pteridines are synthesized de novo by animals. We report that the orange spots that male guppies (Poecilia reticulata) display to females contain red pteridine pigments (drosopterins) in addition to carotenoids. We also examined the relationship between drosopterin production by males and carotenoid availability in the field. The results contrasted sharply with the hypothesis that males use drosopterins to compensate for carotenoid scarcity: males used more, not less, drosopterins in streams with higher carotenoid availability. The positive association between drosopterin use and carotenoid availability could reflect the costs of drosopterin synthesis or it could be a consequence of females preferring a particular pigment ratio or hue. Male guppies appear to use drosopterin pigments in a manner that dilutes, but does not eliminate, the indicator value of carotenoid coloration.
PMCID: PMC1088733  PMID: 11410150
3.  Does Foraging Behaviour Affect Female Mate Preferences and Pair Formation in Captive Zebra Finches? 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):e14340.
Successful foraging is essential for survival and reproductive success. In many bird species, foraging is a learned behaviour. To cope with environmental change and survive periods in which regular foods are scarce, the ability to solve novel foraging problems by learning new foraging techniques can be crucial. Although females have been shown to prefer more efficient foragers, the effect of males' foraging techniques on female mate choice has never been studied. We tested whether females would prefer males showing the same learned foraging technique as they had been exposed to as juveniles, or whether females would prefer males that showed a complementary foraging technique.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We first trained juvenile male and female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) to obtain a significant proportion of their food by one of two foraging techniques. We then tested whether females showed a preference for males with the same or the alternative technique. We found that neither a male's foraging technique nor his foraging performance affected the time females spent in his proximity in the mate-choice apparatus. We then released flocks of these finches into an aviary to investigate whether assortative pairing would be facilitated by birds taught the same technique exploiting the same habitat. Zebra finches trained as juveniles in a specific foraging technique maintained their foraging specialisation in the aviary as adults. However, pair formation and nest location were random with regard to foraging technique.
Our findings show that zebra finches can be successfully trained to be foraging specialists. However, the robust negative results of the conditions tested here suggest that learned foraging specializations do not affect mate choice or pair formation in our experimental context.
PMCID: PMC3002270  PMID: 21179514
4.  Parental preference for red mouth of chicks in a songbird 
Parental preferences during feeding and care-giving may select for ornamental traits in young, such as bright coloration. For chicks of coots, there is experimental evidence for this idea. We examined the hypothesis that bright yellow, orange and red mouths of chicks of songbirds have been favoured by feeding preferences in parents. In a field experiment, the orange–yellow mouths of great tit nestlings were dyed brightly red, and the feeding response of parents recorded. In nest boxes with extra daylight through a window, experimental chicks were on average given twice as much food (biomass) as control chicks (sham dyed). In normal nest boxes, the tendency was similar, but not significant. Thus, at least in good light, great tit parents prefer to feed young with red mouths, a preference for colourfulness that helps explain the evolution of bright gapes in chicks of songbirds (passerine birds).
PMCID: PMC1688550
Feeding Preferences Songbirds Mouth Colour
5.  How parasitoid females produce sexy sons: a causal link between oviposition preference, dietary lipids and mate choice in Nasonia 
Sexual selection theory predicts that phenotypic traits used to choose a mate should reflect honestly the quality of the sender and thus, are often costly. Physiological costs arise if a signal depends on limited nutritional resources. Hence, the nutritional condition of an organism should determine both its quality as a potential mate and its ability to advertise this quality to the choosing sex. In insects, the quality of the offspring's nutrition is often determined by the ovipositing female. A causal connection, however, between the oviposition decisions of the mother and the mating chances of her offspring has never been shown. Here, we demonstrate that females of the parasitic wasp Nasonia vitripennis prefer those hosts for oviposition that have been experimentally enriched in linoleic acid (LA). We show by 13C-labelling that LA from the host diet is a precursor of the male sex pheromone. Consequently, males from LA-rich hosts produce and release higher amounts of the pheromone and attract more virgin females than males from LA-poor hosts. Finally, males from LA-rich hosts possess three times as many spermatozoa as those from LA-poor hosts. Hence, females making the right oviposition decisions may increase both the fertility and the sexual attractiveness of their sons.
PMCID: PMC3169019  PMID: 21429922
handicap hypothesis; mother knows best principle; parasitic wasp; phenotype-linked fertility hypothesis; preference-performance hypothesis; sex pheromone
6.  When mothers make sons sexy: maternal effects contribute to the increased sexual attractiveness of extra-pair offspring 
Quality differences between offspring sired by the social and by an extra-pair partner are usually assumed to have a genetic basis, reflecting genetic benefits of female extra-pair mate choice. In the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), we identified a colour ornament that is under sexual selection and appears to have a heritable basis. Hence, by engaging in extra-pair copulations with highly ornamented males, females could, in theory, obtain genes for increased offspring attractiveness. Indeed, sons sired by extra-pair partners had larger ornaments, seemingly supporting the genetic benefit hypothesis. Yet, when comparing ornament size of the social and extra-pair partners, there was no difference. Hence, the observed differences most likely had an environmental basis, mediated, for example, via differential maternal investment of resources into the eggs fertilized by extra-pair and social partners. Such maternal effects may (at least partly) be mediated by egg size, which we found to be associated with mean ornament expression in sons. Our results are consistent with the idea that maternal effects can shape sexual selection by altering the genotype–phenotype relationship for ornamentation. They also caution against automatically attributing greater offspring attractiveness or viability to an extra-pair mate's superior genetic quality, as without controlling for differential maternal investment we may significantly overestimate the role of genetic benefits in the evolution of extra-pair mating behaviour.
PMCID: PMC3267142  PMID: 21957136
differential allocation; extra-pair copulations; indirect genetic benefits; maternal investment; parental care; sexual selection
7.  Brighter yellow blue tits make better parents. 
Whether or not bird ornaments are a signal for direct (e.g. good parents) or indirect (e.g. good genes) benefits to prospective partners in sexual selection is controversial. Carotene coloration in Parus species is directly related to the ingestion of caterpillars, so that a brightly carotene-coloured tit may be signalling its ability to find caterpillars, a main high-quality food source for good fledgling development, and hence its parental abilities. If carotene-based plumage coloration is related to the good-parent hypothesis, we predict that yellow plumage brightness of tit fathers should be positively correlated to their investment in offspring provisioning. Here, we use cross-fostering experiments in blue tits (Parus caeruleus) to show that chick development (as measured by tarsus length) is related to yellowness of the foster father, but not to that of the genetic parents. Using these data, we were able to measure, for the first time to our knowledge, the separate contribution of genetic and environmental factors (i.e. parental plumage coloration) to chick development, and hence parental investment. Our data, which relate carotenoid coloration to models of good parents, and data from other authors, which relate ultraviolet coloration to good-genes models, stress that different kinds of coloration within an individual may provide different units of information to prospective females.
PMCID: PMC1690890  PMID: 11839194
8.  Foraging costs drive female resistance to a sensory trap 
Male ornaments can evolve through the exploitation of female perceptual biases such as those involved in responding to cues from food. This type of sensory exploitation may lead to confusion between the male signals and the cues that females use to find/recognize food. Such interference would be costly to females and may be one reason why females evolve resistance to the male ornaments. Using a group of species of viviparous fish where resistance to a sensory trap has evolved, we demonstrate that females exposed to an ornament that resembles food have a diminished foraging efficiency, that this effect is apparent when foraging on a food item with which the ornament shares visual attributes, and that not all species are equally affected by such confusion. Our results lend support to the model of ornamental evolution through chase-away sexual conflict.
PMCID: PMC3321720  PMID: 22298856
sensory traps; foraging efficiency; feeding response; chase-away sexual conflict; viviparous fish
9.  Bill Redness Is Positively Associated with Reproduction and Survival in Male and Female Zebra Finches 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e40721.
Sexual traits can serve as honest indicators of phenotypic quality when they are costly. Brightly coloured yellow to red traits, which are pigmented by carotenoids, are relatively common in birds, and feature in sexual selection. Carotenoids have been linked to immune and antioxidant function, and the trade-off between ornamentation and these physiological functions provides a potential mechanism rendering carotenoid based signals costly. Mutual ornamentation is also common in birds and can be maintained by mutual mate choice for this ornament or by a correlated response in one sex to selection on the other sex. When selection pressures differ between the sexes this can cause intralocus sexual conflict. Sexually antagonistic selection pressures have been demonstrated for few sexual traits, and for carotenoid-dependent traits there is a single example: bill redness was found to be positively associated with survival and reproductive output in male zebra finches, but negatively so in females. We retested these associations in our captive zebra finch population without two possible limitations of this earlier study. Contrary to the earlier findings, we found no evidence for sexually antagonistic selection. In both sexes, individuals with redder bills showed higher survival. This association disappeared among the females with the reddest bills. Furthermore, females with redder bills achieved higher reproductive output. We conclude that bill redness of male and female zebra finches honestly signals phenotypic quality, and discuss the possible causes of the differences between our results and earlier findings.
PMCID: PMC3395645  PMID: 22808243
10.  Watching sexy displays improves hatching success and offspring growth through maternal allocation 
Male attractiveness can have tremendous effects on the fitness of his offspring via good genes, but also via enhanced maternal allocation of resources. Yet the proximate mechanisms influencing differential maternal allocation in relation to male sexiness are poorly known. Here, we studied the importance of visual stimulation for maternal allocation in the Houbara bustard, a vulnerable bird species bred in captivity to support wild populations. Artificial insemination allowed controlling for potential confounding factors, such as a male's territory quality, social interactions or sperm quality/quantity, probably linked to mate attractiveness. We show that artificially inseminated females stimulated by highly displaying males increased their hatching success, owing to increased fertilization success. The females also increased the allocation of maternal androgens in their eggs, leading to an increase of circulating testosterone and growth rate in chicks. Hence, visual stimulation of the females can promote differential maternal allocation and favour offspring fitness. Our results further suggest that using artificial insemination for species conservation without appropriate stimulation of the breeding females probably has negative impacts on their breeding performance and therefore on population viability.
PMCID: PMC2982218  PMID: 20538650
maternal investment; reproduction; fertility; mate choice; conservation biology
11.  Melanin-based plumage coloration in the house finch is unaffected by coccidial infection 
For most species of birds, ornamental plumage coloration may result from two types of pigments: carotenoids and melanins. Despite the fact that melanin pigments can be synthesized by birds from basic, amino acid precursors, while carotenoids cannot be synthesized by birds and must be ingested, melanin-based plumage coloration and carotenoid-based plumage coloration have often been treated as a single trait in investigations of the function and evolution of plumage coloration. Expression of carotenoid-based coloration is known to be dependent on condition, while the effects of individual condition have not been well-tested for expression of melanin-based coloration. In this study, we experimentally tested the effect of coccidial infection of the intestinal tract of male house finches during moult on expression of melanin-based plumage coloration. Coccidial infection had a significant negative effect on carotenoid-based coloration, but it had no significant effect on melanin-based feather coloration. Unlike carotenoid-based coloration, melanin-based coloration may be cheap to produce, and honesty of melanin-based coloration my require social mediation.
PMCID: PMC1689168
12.  Polyandry produces sexy sons at the cost of daughters in red flour beetles. 
Female mating with multiple males within a single fertile period is a common phenomenon in the animal kingdom. Female insects are particularly promiscuous. It is not clear why females mate with multiple partners despite several potential costs, such as expenditure of time and energy, reduced lifespan, risk of predation and contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Female red flour beetles (Tribolium castaneum) obtain sufficient sperm from a single insemination to retain fertility for several months. Nonetheless they copulate repeatedly within minutes with different males despite no direct fitness benefits from this behaviour. One hypothesis is that females mate with multiple partners to provide indirect benefits via enhanced offspring fitness. To test this hypothesis, we compared the relative fitness of F(1) offspring from females mated with single males and multiple males (2, 4, 8, or 16 partners), under the condition of relatively high intraspecific competition. We found that a female mating with 16 males enhanced the relative fitness of F(1) males (in two out of three trials) but reduced F(1) females' fitness (in two independent trials) in comparison with singly mated females. We also determined whether several important fitness correlates were affected by polyandry. We found that F(1) males from mothers with 16 partners inseminated more females than F(1) males from mothers with a single partner. The viability of the eggs sired or produced by F(1) males and females from highly polyandrous mothers was also increased under conditions of low intra-specific competition. Thus, the effects of polyandry on F(1) offspring fitness depend on environmental conditions. Our results demonstrated a fitness trade-off between male and female offspring from polyandrous mothers in a competitive environment. The mechanisms and biological significance of this unique phenomenon are discussed.
PMCID: PMC1690898  PMID: 11886623
13.  Better red than dead: carotenoid-based mouth coloration reveals infection in barn swallow nestlings. 
Nestling birds solicit food from their parents by displaying their open brightly coloured gapes. Carotenoids affect gape colour, but also play a central role in immunostimulation. Therefore, we hypothesize that, by differentially allocating resources to nestlings with more brightly coloured gapes, parents favour healthy offspring which are able to allocate carotenoids to gape coloration without compromising their immune defence. We demonstrated that, in the barn swallow Hirundo rustica, (i) parents differentially allocate food to nestlings with an experimentally brighter red gape, (ii) nestlings challenged with a novel antigen (sheep red blood cells, SRBCs) have less bright gape colour than their control siblings, (iii) nestlings challenged with SRBCs but also provided with the principal circulating carotenoid (lutein) have more brightly coloured red gapes than their challenged but unsupplemented siblings and (iv) the gape colour of nestlings challenged with SRBCs and provisioned with lutein exceeds that of siblings that were unchallenged. This suggests that parents may favour nestlings with superior health by preferentially feeding offspring with the brightest gapes.
PMCID: PMC1690492  PMID: 10670953
14.  Female-specific colouration, carotenoids and reproductive investment in a dichromatic species, the upland goose Chloephaga picta leucoptera 
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology  2010;64(11):1779-1789.
Although studies on the evolution and function of female ornaments have become more numerous in the last years, the majority of these studies were carried out in cases where female ornaments were a smaller and duller version of the ornaments found in males. There are substantially fewer studies on species with female-specific ornaments. However, no study so far investigated the potential of female-specific colouration as a quality signal in birds with conventional sex roles. We studied female-specific ornamentation in a strongly sexually dichromatic species, the upland goose Chloephaga picta leucoptera, in two consecutive years. Male upland geese have white head and breast feathers and black legs, whereas females have reddish-brown head and breast feathers and conspicuous yellow-orange legs. We found that female-specific colouration in upland geese can reliably indicate different aspects of female phenotypic quality. Females with more orange coloured legs and more red-like head colours had higher clutch and egg volumes than females with a paler leg and head colouration, and a more reddish plumage colouration was related to a higher body condition. These relationships provide the theoretic possibility for males to assess female phenotypic quality on the basis of colouration. Furthermore, the females with a more orange-like tarsus colouration had higher plasma carotenoid levels. Both tarsus colouration and carotenoid concentrations of individual females were highly correlated across years, indicating that tarsus colour is a stable signal. Despite this correlation, small individual differences in plasma carotenoid concentrations between the two study years were related to differences in tarsus colouration. We thus show for the first time in a wild bird and under natural conditions that carotenoid-based integument colouration remains consistent between individuals in consecutive years and is also a dynamic trait reflecting individual changes in carotenoid levels. In this species, where pairs form life-long bonds, the honesty of the carotenoid-based integument colouration suggests that it may be a sexually selected female ornament that has evolved through male mate choice.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00265-010-0990-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC2952766  PMID: 20976290
Upland goose; Chloephaga picta leucoptera; Female-specific colouration; Signalling; Carotenoids; Individual quality
15.  Dietary carotenoids predict plumage coloration in wild house finches. 
Carotenoid pigments are a widespread source of ornamental coloration in vertebrates and expression of carotenoid-based colour displays has been shown to serve as an important criterion in female mate choice in birds and fishes. Unlike other integumentary pigments, carotenoids cannot be synthesized; they must be ingested. Carotenoid-based coloration is condition-dependent and has been shown to be affected by both parasites and nutritional condition. A controversial hypothesis is that the expression of carotenoid-based coloration in wild vertebrates is also affected by the amount and types of carotenoid pigments that are ingested. We tested this carotenoid-limitation hypothesis by sampling the gut contents of moulting house finches and comparing the concentration of carotenoid pigments in their gut contents with the colour of growing feathers. We found a positive association: males that ingested food with a higher concentration of carotenoid pigments grew brighter ornamental plumage. We also compared the concentration of carotenoids in the gut contents of males from two subspecies of house finches with small and large patches of carotenoid-based coloration. Consistent with the hypothesis that carotenoid access drives the evolution of carotenoid-based colour displays, males from the population with limited ornamentation had much lower concentrations of carotenoids in their gut contents than males from the population with extensive ornamentation. These observations support the idea that carotenoid intake plays a part in determining the plumage brightness of male house finches.
PMCID: PMC1691014  PMID: 12061954
16.  Carotenoid trade-off between parasitic resistance and sexual display: an experimental study in the blackbird (Turdus merula) 
Many parasites depress the expression of the carotenoid-based colour displays of their hosts, and it has been hypothesized that animals face a trade-off in carotenoid allocation between immune functions and ‘degree of ornamentation’. While numerous correlative studies suggest that parasite infection decreases the intensity of carotenoid-based colour displays, the existence of this trade-off has never been demonstrated experimentally in a host–parasite model. In this study, we used the blackbird (Turdus merula) and Isospora (an intestinal parasite) to assess whether this trade-off does indeed exist. Blackbirds were supplemented with carotenoids while simultaneously being exposed to parasites. Supplemented males circulated more carotenoids in the blood and developed more brightly coloured bills than unsupplemented males. In addition, supplementation slowed down the replication rate of parasites. Supplementation with carotenoids enabled infected birds to maintain their bill coloration, whereas birds that were infected but not supplemented showed reduced bill coloration. At the same time, infection slowed carotenoid assimilation in the blood. Overall, we demonstrated that bill colour reflects a bird's health, and that only males with a carotenoid-rich diet are capable of coping with costs associated with parasitic infection. Carotenoids are thus traded off between host physiological response to parasites and secondary sexual traits. Further investigations are required to determine the physiological mechanisms that govern this trade-off.
PMCID: PMC2596825  PMID: 18055388
bill colour; carotenoids; coccidia; experimental infection; trade-off
17.  The Effects of Dietary Carotenoid Supplementation and Retinal Carotenoid Accumulation on Vision-Mediated Foraging in the House Finch 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(6):e21653.
For many bird species, vision is the primary sensory modality used to locate and assess food items. The health and spectral sensitivities of the avian visual system are influenced by diet-derived carotenoid pigments that accumulate in the retina. Among wild House Finches (Carpodacus mexicanus), we have found that retinal carotenoid accumulation varies significantly among individuals and is related to dietary carotenoid intake. If diet-induced changes in retinal carotenoid accumulation alter spectral sensitivity, then they have the potential to affect visually mediated foraging performance.
Methodology/Principal Findings
In two experiments, we measured foraging performance of house finches with dietarily manipulated retinal carotenoid levels. We tested each bird's ability to extract visually contrasting food items from a matrix of inedible distracters under high-contrast (full) and dimmer low-contrast (red-filtered) lighting conditions. In experiment one, zeaxanthin-supplemented birds had significantly increased retinal carotenoid levels, but declined in foraging performance in the high-contrast condition relative to astaxanthin-supplemented birds that showed no change in retinal carotenoid accumulation. In experiments one and two combined, we found that retinal carotenoid concentrations predicted relative foraging performance in the low- vs. high-contrast light conditions in a curvilinear pattern. Performance was positively correlated with retinal carotenoid accumulation among birds with low to medium levels of accumulation (∼0.5–1.5 µg/retina), but declined among birds with very high levels (>2.0 µg/retina).
Our results suggest that carotenoid-mediated spectral filtering enhances color discrimination, but that this improvement is traded off against a reduction in sensitivity that can compromise visual discrimination. Thus, retinal carotenoid levels may be optimized to meet the visual demands of specific behavioral tasks and light environments.
PMCID: PMC3126843  PMID: 21747917
18.  Nematode parasites reduce carotenoid-based signalling in male red grouse 
Biology Letters  2007;3(2):161-164.
Carotenoids determine the yellow–red colours of many ornaments, which often function as signals of quality. Carotenoid-based signalling may reliably advertise health and should be particularly sensitive to parasite infections. Nematodes are among the commonest parasites of vertebrates, with well-documented negative effects on their hosts. However, to date, little is known about the effects that these parasites may have on carotenoid-based signalling. Tetraonid birds (grouse) exhibit supra-orbital combs, which are bright integumentary ornaments pigmented by carotenoids. We tested the effect of the nematode parasite Trichostrongylus tenuis on signalling in free-living male red grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus. We show that experimentally reduced nematode infection increases plasma carotenoid concentration and comb redness, demonstrating for the first time that nematodes can influence carotenoid-based signals.
PMCID: PMC2375928  PMID: 17264052
carotenoids; comb; nematodes; red grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus; Trichostrongylus tenuis
19.  Dual functions of a melanin-based ornament in the common yellowthroat 
Melanin-based ornaments often function as signals in male–male competition, whereas carotenoid-based ornaments appear to be important in female mate choice. This difference in function is thought to occur because carotenoid pigments are more costly to produce than melanins and are thus more reliable indicators of male quality. We examined the role of melanin- and carotenoid-based ornaments in male–male competition and female choice in the common yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas, a sexually dichromatic passerine. Males display a black facial mask produced by melanin pigmentation and a bright yellow bib (throat, breast and belly) produced by carotenoid pigmentation. In controlled aviary experiments, mask size was the best predictor of both male–male competition and female mate choice, and, therefore, mask size may be regarded as an ornament of dual function. These dual functions may help to maintain the reliability of mask size as an indicator of male quality, despite the potentially low cost of production. The size of the bib was unrelated to male–male competition or female choice, but there was a tendency for females to prefer males with more colourful bibs. We propose that the black mask is important in competition for territories with other males and for attracting females. Our results highlight the need for more studies of the mechanisms of sexual selection in species with ornaments composed of different pigment types.
PMCID: PMC1559817  PMID: 16024373
aviary; female choice; Geothlypis trichas; male–male competition; plumage colour; sexual selection
20.  Availability of non-carotenoid antioxidants affects the expression of a carotenoid-based sexual ornament 
Biology Letters  2007;3(4):353-356.
Carotenoids are responsible for much of the yellow, orange and red pigmentation in the animal kingdom, and the importance of such coloration as an honest signal of individual quality has received widespread attention. In particular, owing to the multiple roles of carotenoids as pigments, antioxidants and immunostimulants, carotenoid-based coloration has been suggested to advertise an individual's antioxidant or immune defence capacity. However, it has recently been argued that carotenoid-based signals may in fact be advertising the availability of different antioxidants, many of which (including various vitamins, antioxidant enzymes and minerals) are colourless and so would be uninformative as components of a visual signal, yet often have greater biological activity than carotenoids. We tested this hypothesis by feeding male sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) a diet containing a fixed level of carotenoids and either low or high, but biologically realistic levels of the colourless antioxidant vitamins C and E. High-antioxidant diet males produced significantly more intensely coloured (but not larger) carotenoid-based regions of nuptial coloration and were preferred over size-matched males of the opposite diet treatment in mate-choice trials. Furthermore, there were positive correlations between an individual's somatic antioxidant activity and signal intensity. Our data suggest that carotenoid-based ornaments may honestly signal an individual's availability of non-carotenoid antioxidants, allowing females to make adaptive mate-choice decisions.
PMCID: PMC2390655  PMID: 17472903
α-tocopherol; ascorbic acid; oxidative stress; sexual signalling
21.  Inheritance of Acquired Behaviour Adaptations and Brain Gene Expression in Chickens 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(7):e6405.
Environmental challenges may affect both the exposed individuals and their offspring. We investigated possible adaptive aspects of such cross-generation transmissions, and hypothesized that chronic unpredictable food access would cause chickens to show a more conservative feeding strategy and to be more dominant, and that these adaptations would be transmitted to the offspring.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Parents were raised in an unpredictable (UL) or in predictable diurnal light rhythm (PL, 12∶12 h light∶dark). In a foraging test, UL birds pecked more at freely available, rather than at hidden and more attractive food, compared to birds from the PL group. Female offspring of UL birds, raised in predictable light conditions without parental contact, showed a similar foraging behavior, differing from offspring of PL birds. Furthermore, adult offspring of UL birds performed more food pecks in a dominance test, showed a higher preference for high energy food, survived better, and were heavier than offspring of PL parents. Using cDNA microarrays, we found that the differential brain gene expression caused by the challenge was mirrored in the offspring. In particular, several immunoglobulin genes seemed to be affected similarly in both UL parents and their offspring. Estradiol levels were significantly higher in egg yolk from UL birds, suggesting one possible mechanism for these effects.
Our findings suggest that unpredictable food access caused seemingly adaptive responses in feeding behavior, which may have been transmitted to the offspring by means of epigenetic mechanisms, including regulation of immune genes. This may have prepared the offspring for coping with an unpredictable environment.
PMCID: PMC2713434  PMID: 19636381
22.  On the function of female ornaments: male bluethroats prefer colourful females 
Female ornaments in animals with conventional sex roles have traditionally been considered non-functional, being merely a genetically correlated response to selection for male ornamentation. Alternatively, female ornaments may be influenced by selection acting directly on the females, either through female–female competition or male choice. We tested the latter hypothesis in mate choice experiments with bluethroats (Luscinia s. svecica), a passerine bird in which females vary considerably in coloration of an ornamental throat patch. In outdoor aviaries placed in prime breeding habitat, males were allowed to choose between a colourful and a drab female. We found that males associated more with, and performed more sexual behaviours towards, colourful females. Female coloration was not age-related, but correlated significantly with body mass and tarsus length. Thus, we have demonstrated both a male preference for female ornamentation, and a relationship between ornament expression and female body size, which may be indicative of quality. Our results refute the correlated response hypothesis and support the hypothesis that female ornamentation is sexually selected.
PMCID: PMC1688730
Coloration Female Ornament Luscinia Svecica Male Mate Choice Sexual Selection Visual Signal
23.  Leaders Are More Attractive: Birds with Bigger Yellow Breast Patches Are Followed by More Group-Mates in Foraging Groups 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e26605.
Social network theory provides a perfect tool to better understand the population-level consequences of how individuals interact and make their decisions; however, this approach is generally overlooked among evolutionary biologists interested in social relationships. Here, we used social network analysis to examine the patterns of leader-follower interactions in relation to individual characteristics in foraging groups of free-living rock sparrows (Petronia petronia). We found that yellow feather ornamentation, a carotenoid-based trait, was the best predictor of leadership: birds with bigger ornaments exerted greater influence in the foraging groups and were followed by more group-mates than less elaborate individuals. An individual's tendency for eliciting followings was not influenced by sex, condition or the level of parental investment. None of the above individual characteristics had significant effect on the tendency of individuals to follow others. Our results indicate that a sexually selected trait can also play a significant role in group coordination and social organization of a species.
PMCID: PMC3197525  PMID: 22028920
24.  Evolution of female carotenoid coloration by sexual constraint in Carduelis finches 
Females often express the same ornaments as males to a similar or lesser degree. Female ornaments can be adaptive, but little is known regarding their origins and mode of evolution. Current utility does not imply evolutionary causation, and therefore it is possible that female ornamentation evolved due to selection on females, as a correlated response to selection on males (sexual constraint), or a combination of both. We tested these ideas simulating simple models for the evolution of male and female correlated traits, and compared their predictions against the coloration of finches in the genus Carduelis.
For carotenoid-based ornamental coloration, a model of sexual constraint on females fits the Carduelis data well. The two alternative models (sexual constraint on males, and mutual constraint) were rejected as causing the similarities in carotenoid coloration between males and females. For melanin coloration, the correlation between the sexes was weaker, indicating that males and females evolved independently to a greater extent.
This indicates that sexual constraint on females was an important mechanism for the evolution of ornamental carotenoid coloration in females, but less so for melanin coloration. This does not mean that female carotenoid coloration is non-adaptive or maladaptive, because sexual dichromatism could evolve if it were maladaptive. It suggests, however, that most evolution of female carotenoid coloration was male-driven and, when adaptive, may not be an adaptation stricto sensu.
PMCID: PMC2865479  PMID: 20334705
25.  Carotenoid limitation of sexual coloration along an environmental gradient in guppies 
Carotenoids produce most of the brilliant orange and yellow colours seen in animals, but animals cannot synthesize these pigments and must rely on dietary sources. The idea that carotenoids make good signals because they are a scarce limiting resource was proposed two decades ago and has become the leading hypothesis for the role of carotenoids in animal communication. To our knowledge, until now, however, there has been no direct evidence that carotenoids are a limiting resource in nature. We showed that carotenoid availability in the wild limits the expression of sexual coloration in guppies (Poecilia reticulata), a species in which females prefer males with brighter orange carotenoid-containing spots. Further, the degree of carotenoid limitation varies geographically along a replicated environmental gradient (rainforest canopy cover), which opens new avenues for testing signal evolution theory.
PMCID: PMC1690075

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