Haste makes waste but condition matters: Molt rate-feather quality trade-off in a sedentary songbird

Csongor I. Vágási, Péter L. Pap, Orsolya Vincze, Zoltán Benko, Attila Marton, Z. Barta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

45 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Background: The trade-off between current and residual reproductive values is central to life history theory, although the possible mechanisms underlying this trade-off are largely unknown. The 'molt constraint' hypothesis suggests that molt and plumage functionality are compromised by the preceding breeding event, yet this candidate mechanism remains insufficiently explored. Methodology/Principal Findings: The seasonal change in photoperiod was manipulated to accelerate the molt rate. This treatment simulates the case of naturally late-breeding birds. House sparrows Passer domesticus experiencing accelerated molt developed shorter flight feathers with more fault bars and body feathers with supposedly lower insulation capacity (i.e. shorter, smaller, with a higher barbule density and fewer plumulaceous barbs). However, the wing, tail and primary feather lengths were shorter in fast-molting birds if they had an inferior body condition, which has been largely overlooked in previous studies. The rachis width of flight feathers was not affected by the treatment, but it was still condition-dependent. Conclusions/Significance: This study shows that sedentary birds might face evolutionary costs because of the molt rate-feather quality conflict. This is the first study to experimentally demonstrate that (1) molt rate affects several aspects of body feathers as well as flight feathers and (2) the costly effects of rapid molt are condition-specific. We conclude that molt rate and its association with feather quality might be a major mediator of life history trade-offs. Our findings also suggest a novel advantage of early breeding, i.e. the facilitation of slower molt and the condition-dependent regulation of feather growth.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere40651
JournalPLoS One
Volume7
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 12 2012

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Feathers
Songbirds
Birds
songbirds
feathers
molting
Breeding
Insulation
Passer domesticus
flight
birds
breeding
Sparrows
life history
Costs
Molting
Photoperiod
insulating materials
plumage
Tail

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)

Cite this

Haste makes waste but condition matters : Molt rate-feather quality trade-off in a sedentary songbird. / Vágási, Csongor I.; Pap, Péter L.; Vincze, Orsolya; Benko, Zoltán; Marton, Attila; Barta, Z.

In: PLoS One, Vol. 7, No. 7, e40651, 12.07.2012.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Vágási, Csongor I. ; Pap, Péter L. ; Vincze, Orsolya ; Benko, Zoltán ; Marton, Attila ; Barta, Z. / Haste makes waste but condition matters : Molt rate-feather quality trade-off in a sedentary songbird. In: PLoS One. 2012 ; Vol. 7, No. 7.
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