Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 217–235 | Cite as

Covariation of sexual dichromatism and plumage colours in lekking and non-lekking birds: A comparative analysis

  • ROBERT Bleiweiss


The extreme polygyny expressed by male lekking birds leads to the expectation that sexual dimorphism should be greater in lekkers than related non-lekkers. However, evidence for this association is weak, and many lekkers are actually monomorphic in size and plumage. To better understand the kinds of plumages associated with lekking, I characterized plumage variation for combinations of sexual dichromatism and colourfulness-and-conspicuousness (COCO) among lekking and related non-lekking birds. Compared in this way, the plumages of lekkers and non-lekkers differ dramatically for both sexes. Correlations between sexual dichromatism and COCO for phylogenetically independent contrasts are significant for male lekkers (positive) and female non-lekkers (negative), but not for female lekkers or male non-lekkers. Moreover, the total number of character–state combinations, and multivariate measures of variability, are greater in non-lekkers than lekkers.The characteristic plumages of lekkers (‘duller monochromatic’, ‘brighter dichromatic’ and intermediate between these extremes) comprise just a subset of those observed among non-lekkers, and exclude extremely ‘dull dichromatic’ and extremely ‘bright monochromatic’ plumages. I suggest that predation, and foraging behaviours compatible with lekking, may restrict plumage variation among lekkers. Thus ecological rather than overt sexual characteristics may explain monomorphism in birds under intense mate competition, as well as the paradox of strong female mate preferences on leks, where males appear to contribute only sperm to female reproductive efforts.

breeding system independent contrasts lek natural selection plumage sexual selection 


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Copyright information

© Chapman and Hall 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • ROBERT Bleiweiss
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Zoology and the Zoological MuseumUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA

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