Oecologia

, Volume 178, Issue 1, pp 161–173 | Cite as

Inter-annual variation in American redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) plumage colour is associated with rainfall and temperature during moult: an 11-year study

  • Matthew W. Reudink
  • Ann E. McKellar
  • Kristen L. D. Marini
  • Sarah L. McArthur
  • Peter P. Marra
  • Laurene M. Ratcliffe
Behavioral ecology –original research

Abstract

Carotenoid-based colouration plays an important role in sexual signaling in animals as an honest indicator of individual quality during mate choice and competitive interactions. However, few studies have examined how natural variation in weather conditions influences inter-annual variation in the expression of ornamentation, potentially through affecting the dietary availability of carotenoids. In this study, we examine variation in the expression of carotenoid-based plumage colouration in relation to temperature and rainfall during the pre-moulting and moulting period over 11 years in a population of American redstarts, Setophaga ruticilla, breeding in eastern Canada. We used reflectance spectrometry of tail feathers collected from male and female redstarts to relate feather colour with weather conditions the previous breeding season during the months over which redstarts are likely to moult (June–September). At a population level, birds expressed feathers with higher red chroma and lower brightness in years following high July rainfall and low August temperature. The pattern was stronger in males, but was generally consistent across ages and sexes. Analyses of feathers from repeatedly captured birds indicated that the above patterns could be explained by individual change in feather colour. We suggest that higher rainfall during the moulting period may increase insect abundance and the availability of dietary carotenoids. This is among the first studies to show effects of weather conditions on a sexual signalling trait, which may have important consequences for sexual selection, mate choice, and the reliability of putative signals.

Keywords

Plumage Carotenoid Climate Long-term Moult Colour change 

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew W. Reudink
    • 1
  • Ann E. McKellar
    • 2
  • Kristen L. D. Marini
    • 1
  • Sarah L. McArthur
    • 1
  • Peter P. Marra
    • 4
  • Laurene M. Ratcliffe
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesThompson Rivers UniversityKamloopsCanada
  2. 2.Environment CanadaSaskatoonCanada
  3. 3.Department of BiologyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada
  4. 4.Migratory Bird Center, Smithsonian Conservation Biology InstituteNational Zoological ParkWashingtonUSA

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