The Science of Nature

, 105:17 | Cite as

Colour change in a structural ornament is related to individual quality, parasites and mating patterns in the blue tit

  • E. P. Badás
  • J. Martínez
  • J. Rivero-de Aguilar
  • C. Ponce
  • M. Stevens
  • S. Merino
Original Paper


Carry-over effects refer to processes that occur in one season and influence fitness in the following. In birds, two costly activities, namely reproduction and moult, are restricted to a small time window, and sometimes overlap. Thus, colour in newly moulted feathers is likely to be affected by the costs of reproduction. Using models of bird vision we investigated male colour change in a free-living population of blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) in three sampling occasions: spring 1, winter and spring 2. We related crown, tail, breast and cheek feather colouration after the moult (winter) to the intensity of infections by blood parasites during reproduction (spring 1). In the following spring (spring 2), we explored mating patterns with respect to changes in feather colour (springs 1 vs. 2). Males that were less intensely infected by the malaria parasite Plasmodium while breeding showed purer white cheek feathers in winter, which may indicate higher feather quality. Increased brightness in the white cheek was associated with better body condition during reproduction. In the following season, males with brighter cheeks paired with females that had noticeably brighter cheek patches compared to the male’s previous mate. These results suggest that the conditions experienced during reproduction are likely to affect moult and thus feather colouration, at least in the white patch. High quality individuals may allocate resources efficiently during reproduction increasing future reproductive success through variation in mating patterns. Carry-over effects from reproduction might extend not only to the non-breeding phase, but also to the following breeding season.


Achromatic colouration Body mass Life-history theory Sexual selection Signalling Structural colouration 



We thank ‘El Ventorrillo’ field station for the use of their facilities and several field assistants who helped during fieldwork. We are indebted to L. M. Carrascal for his comments on the statistical analyses.

Funding information

This study was funded by projects CGL2012-40026-C02-01 and CGL2012-40026-C02-02 from the MEC (Ministerio de Economia y Competitividad).

Compliance with ethical standards

The Junta de Castilla y León authorised the ringing and handling of blue tits in the study area (protocol number EP/SG/193/2013). All researchers manipulating birds held a specific ringing permit. Work in the field area was done with permission from J. Donés (Director of ‘Montes de Valsain’).

Supplementary material

114_2018_1539_MOESM1_ESM.docx (3.4 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 3494 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. P. Badás
    • 1
  • J. Martínez
    • 2
  • J. Rivero-de Aguilar
    • 2
  • C. Ponce
    • 1
  • M. Stevens
    • 3
  • S. Merino
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Evolutionary Ecology, National Museum of Natural SciencesMadridSpain
  2. 2.Department of Biomedicine and BiotechnologyUniversity of Alcalá de HenaresMadridSpain
  3. 3.Centre for Ecology and ConservationUniversity of ExeterCornwallUK

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