, Volume 66, Issue 1, pp 135-143
Date: 30 Sep 2011

Safe betting: males help dull females only when they raise high-quality offspring

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In evolutionary biology, whether parents should enhance or reduce parental care according to mate ornamentation is a subject of great debate. However, the evolution of female ornaments can shed light on this question. In theory, female ornamentation should be traded off against fecundity and thus cannot be wholly informative to males without a direct indication of fecundity. Hence, direct cues of offspring quality should affect the relationship between male investment and female ornamentation. Under this hypothesis, we manipulated two direct cues of offspring quality (egg size and color) after first egg laying in the blue-footed booby and registered male incubation patterns. In this species, foot color is a dynamic signal of current condition and in females is traded off with egg size. We found that males spent more time incubating when paired with dull females but only in nests with large eggs. Males also spent less time incubating small dull eggs. Results indicate that egg size, a direct cue of reproductive value, affected the relationship between male effort and female ornamentation. Males may be willing to help females that have invested in offspring at the expense of ornamentation, which suggests compensation when females are in low condition. Another possibility is that males relax their effort when paired with highly ornamented and fecund females because they have high parenting abilities. Our findings suggest that the information conveyed by female ornaments may depend on direct cues of fecundity. Results also highlight that parental decisions are complex, modulated by a combination of information sources.