Sexual selection requires both that there is heritable variation in traits related to fitness, and that either some of this variation is linked to traits of the parents, and/or that there are direct benefits of choosing particular individuals as mates. This suggests that if direct benefits are important offspring performance should be predicted by traits of the rearing adults. But if indirect benefits are more significant offspring performance should be predicted by traits of the adults at the nest-of-origin. We conducted cross-fostering experiments in great tits (Parus major) over four years, in two of which we manipulated environmental conditions by providing supplemental food. In a third year, some nestlings were directly supplemented with carotenoids. Nestlings in broods whose rearing adults received supplemental food were heavier and had improved immune responses even when controlling for body mass. Nestling immune function was related to measures of the yellow plumage color of both the rearing male and the putative father. Nestling body mass was influenced by the coloration of both the rearing female and the genetic mother. Our results suggest that features of both their social and putative genetic parents influence nestling health and growth. From this it would appear that females could be gaining both direct and indirect benefits through mate choice of male plumage traits and that it would be possible for males to similarly gain through mate choice of female traits.
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