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Structural (UV) and carotenoid-based plumage coloration – signals for parental investment?

10 Apr 2016

Abstract

Parental care increases parental fitness through improved offspring condition and survival but comes at a cost for the caretaker(s). To increase life-time fitness, caring parents are, therefore, expected to adjust their reproductive investment to current environmental conditions and parental capacities. The latter is thought to be signaled via ornamental traits of the bearer. We here investigated whether pre- and/or posthatching investment of blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) parents was related to ornamental plumage traits (UV crown coloration and carotenoid-based plumage coloration) expressed by either the individual itself (i.e. “good parent hypothesis”) or its partner (i.e. “differential allocation hypothesis”). Our results show that neither prehatching (that is clutch size and offspring begging intensity) nor posthatching parental investment (provisioning rate, offspring body condition at fledging) was related to an individual's UV crown coloration or to that of its partner. Similar observations were made for carotenoid-based plumage coloration, except for a consistent positive relationship between offspring begging intensity and maternal carotenoid-based plumage coloration. This sex-specific pattern likely reflects a maternal effect mediated via maternally derived egg substances, given that the relationship persisted when offspring were cross-fostered. This suggests that females adjust their offspring's phenotype toward own phenotype, which may facilitate in particular mother-offspring co-adaptation. Overall, our results contribute to the current state of evidence that structural or pigment-based plumage coloration of blue tits are inconsistently correlated with central life-history traits.

We investigated whether pre- and/or posthatching investment of blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) parents was related to ornamental plumage traits (UV crown coloration and carotenoid-based plumage coloration) expressed by either the individual itself or its partner. Most traits were not linked to plumage coloration, except for a consistent positive relationship between offspring begging intensity and maternal carotenoid-based plumage coloration. This is likely to represent a maternal effect mediated via maternally derived egg substances.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in Ecology and Evolution