Plumage redness predicts breeding onset and reproductive success in the House Finch: A validation of Darwin's theory

Kevin J. McGraw, Andrew M. Stoehr, Paul M. Nolan, Geoffrey E. Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

53 Scopus citations

Abstract

Darwin (1871) and later Fisher (1958) suggested that sexual selection can drive the evolution of ornamental traits in monogamous species when female preferences for these traits allow well-ornamented males to begin breeding earlier in a season and, as a result, gain reproductive advantages over poorly ornamented males. However, few studies have been conducted to test this fundamental concept upon which much of the sexual selection theory for monogamous species has been based. In this study, we examined the relationship between breeding onset, reproductive success, and male ornamentation in the House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus, a species in which males display bright carotenoid-based plumage pigmentation. In previous work, it has been shown that bright male House Finches are preferred as social mates by females and, as a result, begin nesting earlier in the season than do drab orange and yellow males. Here we show that, by initiating breeding earlier in the season, brightly colored males fledge more offspring in a season than do drab males. Thus, differential timing of breeding generates considerable variance in reproductive success among male House Finches and contributes to sexual selection for male plumage ornamentation in this species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)90-94
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Volume32
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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