The ornament–condition relationship varies with parasite abundance at population level in a female bird
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Environmental heterogeneity is expected to create variation in the ornament–condition relationship. This topic has been studied in males with less attention being given to females. Here, we explore inter-population variation in the relationship between the size of a male-like trait, supra-orbital combs, and body mass in female red grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus. We used the abundance of the nematode Trichostrongylus tenuis, a parasite with strong negative effects on this species, as a proxy of environmental conditions. We studied six populations over 5 years and showed that the comb size–body mass relationship varied with mean parasite abundance, with stronger ornament–condition relationships in populations with higher parasite infection levels. Our study supports the idea that environmental conditions, and in particular parasite infection levels, may affect the reliability of female ornaments as condition indicators.
KeywordsEnvironmental conditions Lagopus lagopus scoticus Secondary sexual traits Sexual selection Trichostrongylus tenuis
We are grateful to the people that helped in the field, and to owners and gamekeepers, British Army, RSPB, and English Natural Heritage for allowing us to work on their moors. A. Roulin and an anonymous reviewer provided valuable comments. PV and FM were supported by a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship (PIEF-GA-2009-252499) and a NERC advanced fellowship, respectively. This study was funded by Natural Environment Research Council grants (NER/A/S/1999/00074, NE/D000602/1 and NE/D014352/1). We held the necessary licenses for conducting these procedures (PPL80/1437 and PPL60/3824).
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