Nutritional correlates and mate acquisition role of multiple sexual traits in male collared flycatchers
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- Hegyi, G., Szöllősi, E., Jenni-Eiermann, S. et al. Naturwissenschaften (2010) 97: 567. doi:10.1007/s00114-010-0672-0
The information content of a sexual signal may predict its importance in a multiple signal system. Many studies have correlated sexual signal expression with the absolute levels of nutrient reserves. In contrast, the changes of nutrient reserves associated with signal expression are largely unknown in the wild due to technical limitations although they are important determinants of signal information content. We compared two visual and eight acoustic sexual traits in male collared flycatchers to see whether the nutritional correlates of expression predict the role of the signal in sexual selection. We used single point assays of plasma lipid metabolites to estimate short-term changes in nutritional state in relation to sexual trait expression during courtship. As a measure of sexual selection, we estimated the relationship with pairing latency after arrival in a 4-year dataset. Males which found a mate rapidly were characterized by large wing and forehead patches, but small song strophe complexity and small figure repertoire size. Traits more strongly related to pairing latency were also more closely related to changes in nutrient reserves. This indicates a link between signal role and information content. Small wing patches and, surprisingly, complex songs seemed to indicate poor phenotypic quality and were apparently disfavoured at mate acquisition in our population. Future studies of the information content of sexual traits, especially dynamic traits such as song, may benefit from the use of plasma metabolite profiles as non-invasive indicators of short-term changes in body condition.