, Volume 35, Issue 6, pp 389-400

Sexual selection in the northern pintail (Anas acuta): the importance of female choice versus male-male competition in the evolution of sexually-selected traits

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We experimentally studied the relative importance of plumage, dominance status, and courtship behavior in determining male pairing success in the northern pintail Anas acuta and assessed whether these traits function in female choice, male-male competition or both. In an experiment (experiment IA) that eliminated the confounding effects of male-male competition and social courtship, females chose males with pure white breasts and colorful scapular feathers. When the same group of birds were free to interact (experiment 1B), male behavior was more important: females chose males that courted them intensely and were attentive to them, although preferred males again had whiter breasts and more colorful scapulars. In a second experiment (experiment 2), testing the effect of age on pairing success, females showed a significant preference for 2-year-old males over yearlings: 2-year-old males courted more and were more attentive to the female than yearlings; they were also more colorful than yearlings in a number of plumage measurements. Although males (in both experiments 1B and 2) were aggressive to one another while courting the female and dominant males were sometimes able to exclude subordinates from social courtship, contrary to expectation, we found no relationship between initial dominance rank and pairing success or dominance rank and age. In addition, dominance was not correlated with any of the morphological traits measured. Once chosen, however, subordinate males typically initiated fights with the higher-ranked male(s) and quickly achieved dominance. These results suggest that (1) females choose males based on a suite of morphological and behavioral characteristics, (2) male dominance relationships do not constrain active female choice, (3) a male's position in a dominance hierarchy is largely a result rather than a cause of female choice, and (4) female choice plays a more significant role than male-male competition in the evolution of several secondary sexual traits in male northern pintails.

Communicated by R. Gibson