Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 60, Issue 2, pp 227–233 | Cite as

Prey vulnerability in relation to sexual coloration of prey

  • Anders Pape Møller
  • Jan Tøttrup Nielsen
Original Article


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.


Accipiter nisus Host–parasite interactions Sexual dichromatism Sparrowhawk 



We would like to thank all landowners who provided access to their properties. H. Grunnet and J. K. Jensen helped collect some of the material. S. Rytkönen kindly provided constructive criticism.

Supplementary material

265_2006_160_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (47 kb)
Table S1 Information on species name, population density, number of prey individuals, prey selection index, body mass (g), nest site, coloniality, sexual dichromatism (dichotomous and continuous score, respectively), male plumage brightness, female plumage brightness, migratory status, and habitat for the 66 species included in the present study (PDF 48 kb)
265_2006_160_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (41 kb)
Phylogenetic relationships between the 66 different species of avian prey taken by European sparrowhawks (PDF 42 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratoire de Parasitologie Evolutive, CNRS UMR 7103Université Pierre et Marie CurieParisFrance
  2. 2.SindalDenmark

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