Multiple sexual advertisements honestly reflect health status in peacocks (Pavo cristatus)

Abstract

The evolution of multiple sexual traits remains controversial and poorly understood in evolutionary biology. In many bird species, males exhibit complex courtships involving feather ornaments and behavioral display. Multiple traits may convey information on the genetic and phenotypic quality of males. In particular, fixed characters, such as feather ornaments (produced once a year during the annual molt in many bird species) might convey information about past male condition (at the time of trait development); whereas flexible traits such as behavioral displays should be sensitive to present condition. Here we show that both flexible behavioral displays and fixed feather ornaments of peacocks, used by females to choose a mate, honestly reflect health status. Correlative data showed that peacocks with high display rate (the number of behavioral displays per hour) and a large number of tail eyespots had low levels of circulating heterophils, suggesting better health status. Experimental activation of the immune system, through LPS injection, significantly reduced display rate compared to a control group. However, the sensitivity of a male display rate to the immune challenge was dependent on the number of tail eyespots: males with higher number of tail eyespots were better able to cope with the experimental immune challenge, and maintained their display rate at levels closer to the levels performed before the immune activation. These results are consistent with the idea that multiple signaling might enhance information reliability.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Thierry Boulinier, Etienne Danchin, Bart Kempenaers, Karen McCoy, Tommaso Pizzari, Ben Sheldon, and two anonymous referees who greatly improved previous versions of this manuscript. Yannick Roman and Jean-Marie Cannonville kindly helped with the screening of smears and heterophils counting. Financial support was provided by the Ministère de la Recherche (ACI Jeunes Chercheurs) to GS. The experiments conducted herein comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed

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Correspondence to Adeline Loyau.

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Communicated by M. Leonard

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Loyau, A., Saint Jalme, M., Cagniant, C. et al. Multiple sexual advertisements honestly reflect health status in peacocks (Pavo cristatus). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 58, 552–557 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-005-0958-y

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Keywords

  • Female choice
  • Immune challenge
  • Multiple traits
  • Sexual selection