Depigmented wing patch size is a condition-dependent indicator of viability in male collared flycatchers

János Török, Gergely Hegyi, László Zsolt Garamszegi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

98 Citations (Scopus)


Honesty of sexual advertisement is thought to be the result of signalling costs. Because production costs of depigmented plumage patches are probably very low, their role as honest signals of individual quality has been questioned. Costs of bearing these traits, however, should also be taken into account. Studies on proximate determination and possible information content of white badges are very rare. We investigated repeatability, sensu lato heritability, and condition- and age-dependence of white wing patch size, a male display trait in a population of collared flycatchers (Ficedula albicollis), based on 4 years of data. By comparing relationships between age and wing patch size (1) within individuals among years versus (2) among individuals within years, we could address the viability indicator value of the trait. Wing patch size approximately doubled at the transition from subadult to adult plumage, and its change was significantly related to body condition the previous season. Repeatability and heritability values suggest that the trait is informative already in subadult plumage, and that genetic and early environmental effects are important in its determination, the latter only during the first year of life. Thus, wing patch size can act as a condition-dependent signal of genetic quality. Indeed, discrepancy between results from the horizontal and vertical age-dependence approaches shows that the trait was positively related to expected lifespan. After examining several alternative explanations, we conclude that wing patch size indicates genetically based viability. This is the first study to demonstrate a good genes viability benefit conferred by a depigmented plumage patch.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)382-388
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2003


  • Condition-dependence
  • Good genes signaling
  • Heritability
  • Plumage coloration
  • Repeatability
  • Viability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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