Phenotypic plasticity in a conspicuous female plumage trait: information content and mating patterns

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29 Citations (Scopus)


Explaining sexual ornamentation in the limiting sex, usually females, requires information on the proximate background of ornaments and their consequences for sexual selection. Phenotypic variation within individuals has received little attention in either of these research directions. We used 6 years of data to examine the information content and potential role of white wing patch size in female collared flycatchers, Ficedula albicollis. Female wing patch size differed among years. Yearling females had smaller wing patches than older females. The negative effect of original patch size on intraindividual patch size change was stronger in yearling than in older birds, which may reflect an age-dependent trade-off. Change in wing patch size was strongly positively related to the summer North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index. Clutch size laid in the previous breeding season had a negative effect on patch size change, but only in high-NAO years. Thus, the immediate effect of poor climate during moult apparently overrode the more indirect influence of reproductive effort. Two sexually selected ornaments of mates were unrelated to female wing patch size at the population level, but intraindividual changes of female wing patch size significantly predicted differences in wing patch size between mates obtained in the 2 years. Our data suggest that significant mating advantages to more ornamented females may not be detected from population-level mating patterns. Research on potential female ornaments should also pay more attention to age-dependent phenotypic plasticity, the trade-off between current and future ornament size and the costs of reproduction to apparent future attractiveness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)977-989
Number of pages13
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2008



  • Ficedula albicollis
  • age
  • climate
  • collared flycatcher
  • female ornament
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • reproductive effort
  • sexual selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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

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