Dietary flavonoids enhance conspicuousness of a melanin-based trait in male blackcaps but not of the female homologous trait or of sexually monochromatic traits.

Abstract

Signalling theory predicts that signals should fulfil three fundamental requirements: high detectability, discriminability and, most importantly, reliability. Melanins are the most common pigments in animals. Correlations between genotypic and phenotypic qualities of the sender and size and morph of melanin-based traits are known, but it is contentious whether melanin-based colouration may signal any quality. We examined the effect of supplementing blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) with flavonoids, potent plant antioxidants, on plumage colouration. We demonstrate that melanin-based colour can fulfil all requirements of signals of phenotypic condition. As predicted by sexual selection theory, flavonoid supplementation influenced only the sexually dichromatic black cap of males, whereas the female homologous trait and the sexually monochromatic back colouration remained unaffected. Using avian vision models we show that birds can estimate male flavonoid intake from colouration of males' black cap. Because flavonoid ingestion can increase immune responsiveness in blackcaps, melanin head colouration may signal environmentally determined immune condition.

DOI: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2009.01778.x

Cite this paper

@article{Catoni2009DietaryFE, title={Dietary flavonoids enhance conspicuousness of a melanin-based trait in male blackcaps but not of the female homologous trait or of sexually monochromatic traits.}, author={Carlo Catoni and Anne Peters and Hinrich Martin Schaefer}, journal={Journal of evolutionary biology}, year={2009}, volume={22 8}, pages={1649-57} }