Experimental trait mismatches uncover specificity of evolutionary links between multiple signaling traits and their interactions in hummingbirds*

Richard K. Simpson, Kevin McGraw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Many animal signals co-occur, and these signals may coevolve due to their interactive properties. Previous work has demonstrated ecological drivers of evolutionary relationships between signals and the environment, which leads to questions about why specific signal pairs evolved among species that possess multiple signals. We asked whether the coloration of different species was optimized for presentation with its natural behavioral display. We investigated this in “bee” hummingbirds, where males exhibit angle-dependent structurally-colored plumage and a stereotyped courtship (shuttle) display, by experimentally creating mismatches between the behavior and plumage of five species and quantifying how these mismatches influenced male color appearance during a display. Specifically, we photographed the plumage from a given species as we moved its feathers through the position-and-orientation-specific courtship display path of other species and quantified the resulting color appearance during the display in order to compare the mismatched color appearance to each species’ natural color appearance. We found that mismatches significantly altered display flashiness (% change in coloration during displays) compared to the natural plumage-behavior pairings, and that such departures in flashiness were predicted by differences in shuttle behaviors alone. These results illustrate a tight evolutionary relationship between shuttle displays and color flashiness in these hummingbirds. Further, we found that interspecific variation in male plumage, behavior, and natural color appearance predicted deviations between natural and mismatched flashy color appearance. Altogether, our work provides a new method for testing signal coevolution and highlights the complex evolutionary relationships between multiple signals and their interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)436-451
Number of pages16
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2019


  • Angle-dependent structural plumage
  • bee hummingbirds
  • coloration
  • courtship
  • shuttle display

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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