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Natural and sexual selection act on different axes of variation in avian plumage color [Science Advances]

by Frédéric Magné - published on , updated on

The bright colors of birds are often attributed to sexual selection on males, but in many species both sexes are colorful and it has been long debated whether sexual selection can also explain this variation. We show that most evolutionary transitions in color have been toward similar plumage in both sexes, and the color of both sexes (for example, bright or dull) was associated with indices of natural selection (for example, habitat type), whereas sexual differences in color were primarily associated with indices of sexual selection on males (for example, polygyny and large testes size). Debate about the evolution of bird coloration can be resolved by recognizing that both natural and sexual selection have been influential, but they have generally acted on two different axes: sexual selection on an axis of sexual differences and natural selection on both sexes for the type of color (for example, bright or dull).

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