The design of complex sexual traits in male barn swallows: Associations between signal attributes

L. Z. Garamszegi, G. Hegyi, D. Heylen, P. Ninni, F. De Lope, M. Eens, A. P. MØller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

22 Citations (Scopus)


Variation in the expression of sexually selected traits among individuals is widely investigated on the premise that these traits evolved to signal male quality. Significant repeatabilities of sexual signals and their associations with condition, mating success, survivorship and age may be the signatures of sexual selection. However, little is known about the relationship between these sexual attributes. Here we studied 28 acoustic and visual traits in the barn swallow, Hirundo rustica, that may potentially function in sexual selection. Based on effect sizes calculated at the between-individual level, we assessed the relationship between repeatability, condition-dependence, attractiveness, age-dependence and viability indicator value of sexual traits using sexual signals as the units of analyses. Those traits that showed high within-year repeatability also showed high between-year repeatability, indicating that between-individual variation is consistent within and among seasons. In addition, age-dependence of traits, probably causing between-year variation, was negatively related to between-year repeatability. Condition-dependence was negatively correlated with effect sizes for the extent to which traits predicted viability. Therefore, traits that are positively related to immediate condition are those that are negatively related to survival, which may be the signature of a trade-off between current and future reproductive success ultimately reflecting signal reliability. No other significant relationship was found between trait attributes. We conclude that multiple sexual signals reflect different aspects of male quality in the barn swallow.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2052-2066
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2006


  • Age-dependence
  • Bird song
  • Condition-dependence
  • Mate choice
  • Repeatability
  • Tail length
  • Viability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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