, Volume 60, Issue 2, pp 227-233
Date: 09 Mar 2006

Prey vulnerability in relation to sexual coloration of prey

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Sexual selection that results in the evolution of exaggerated secondary sexual characters has been hypothesized to impose production and maintenance costs of such traits on their bearers. Costs arising from sexual selection could increase the intensity of predator-mediated natural selection, leading to the prediction that species with exaggerated secondary sexual characters should be particularly susceptible to predation. We tested this prediction in a comparative analysis based on 31,745 prey individuals belonging to 66 species of birds collected from a total of 937 breeding events by 33 to 66 different pairs of European sparrowhawks Accipiter nisus annually during a period of 21 years. To assess vulnerability of different species we estimated a prey vulnerability index based on the difference in the logarithmically transformed absolute abundance of prey minus the logarithmically transformed expected abundance as determined by population density of breeding birds. The prey vulnerability index was predicted by sexual dichromatism, accounting for 23% of the variance in risk of predation among species, even when considering similarity in phenotype among species due to common descent (in the latter case explaining 12% of the variance). This finding suggests that sexual selection is an important evolutionary force-affecting predator–prey interactions.

Communicated by P. Bednekoff