Stable correlation structure among multiple plumage colour traits: Can they work as a single signal?

Gergely Hegyi, Miklós Laczi, Gergely Nagy, Eszter Szász, Dóra Kötél, János Török

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11 Citations (Scopus)


The presence of multiple distinct ornamental traits in the same species is frequently explained by context-specificity and different information content. However, the expression of multiple ornaments is often correlated, and such traits may therefore function as a single, integrated signal. Delayed use of an integrated signal relative to production requires temporal stability in integration, which has seldom been examined. We used autumn and spring reflectance data from the breast, breast stripe, and crown of great tits (Parus major) to assess the stability and mating implications of colour signal integration, as well as the repeatability of any integrated colour trait and its correlation with condition during moult. We found high levels of stability between seasons, years, sexes, and ages in the correlation patterns of colour measures across the three plumage areas. The first principal component colour axis described joint variation of ultraviolet (UV) reflectance on the crown and the breast stripe, thereby representing an among-trait UV chroma axis. However, only breast yellow chroma showed condition-dependence, whereas temporally consistent and significant assortative mating was restricted to crown UV chroma. Our results therefore do not support the idea that the overall UV chroma of the breast stripe and the crown is special in condition-dependence and repeatability, or that it plays a specific role in mutual sexual selection as an integrated signal. The results show that stable association between display traits is an existing phenomenon. They also indicate that, even in the presence of correlated traits, functional trait integration among these requires further scrutiny.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-108
Number of pages17
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2015



  • Body condition
  • Feather abrasion
  • Moult
  • Plumage
  • Redundant
  • Sexual selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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