Does female plumage coloration signal parental quality? A male removal experiment with the bluethroat (Luscinia s. svecica)
Females in several sexually dimorphic species with conventional sex roles possess ornamental traits that resemble those found in males. The evolution of such traits, however, is still poorly understood. Bluethroats (Luscinia s. svecica) are socially monogamous, sexually dichromatic passerine birds, in which female throat patch coloration varies from near absence to near full expression of male-like coloration. A recent study, demonstrating that male bluethroats prefer colourful females, suggests that female coloration is subject to sexual selection through male choice. However, the benefits males may gain from mating with colourful females have not yet been identified. In this study we tested the hypothesis that female coloration signals parental quality (the good-parent hypothesis). During the course of the same day, we recorded female care both in the presence and the absence of the male mate. The latter was done to eliminate the confounding effect of variable male care by removing the male temporarily. Female coloration did not correlate with female feeding rates either in the presence or in the absence of the male. Female feeding rates in the absence and the presence of the male were positively, although weakly, correlated. Female coloration did not correlate with female ability to compensate for the loss of male care, or with the change in brood mass during male removal. Therefore, there is no evidence for the good-parent hypothesis to explain female plumage coloration in bluethroats.
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