Shorter-legged males start breeding earlier in the barn swallow


Many sexual selection studies focus on conspicuous ornaments, such as long tails, but neglect to investigate inconspicuous traits. Here, we studied a well-known sexual selection mechanism, the Darwin–Fisher mechanism (i.e., breeding date selection), in relation to tarsus length in male barn swallows Hirundo rustica, a model species for sexual selection. When controlling for body size, we found that males with shorter tarsi started breeding earlier than those with longer tarsi. The current study indicates a selective advantage of short-legged males, explaining the reversed sexual dimorphism in tarsus length in this short-legged species.

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Fig. 1

Data availability

The datasets analyzed during the current study are not publicly available due to ongoing other studies but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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We are grateful to the residents of Joetsu City and Tsurugi-machi for their kind support and assistance. We also thank Dr. Shumpei Kitamura and his laboratory members in Ishikawa Prefectural University. MH was supported by the Research Fellowship of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS, 15J10000; 19K06850).

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MH did most field survey, performed statistical analysis, and wrote the most of the manuscript, EA and MN assisted field survey, provided technical support and improved the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Masaru Hasegawa.

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We have no conflict of interest.

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The permits for animal capture and handling were provided by Niigata Prefecture in Japan (#1) and by Ishikawa Prefecture in Japan (#31-14-1), following the Wildlife Protection and Hunting Management Law.

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Hasegawa, M., Arai, E. & Nakamura, M. Shorter-legged males start breeding earlier in the barn swallow. J Ethol (2021).

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  • Hirundo rustica gutturalis
  • Reversed sexual dimorphism
  • Sexual selection
  • Skeletal size
  • Tarsus length