Labile evolution of display traits in bowerbirds indicates reduced effects of phylogenetic constraint

Rab Kusmierski, Gerald Borgia, Albert Uy, Ross H. Crozier


Bowerbirds (Ptilonorhynchidae) have among the most exaggerated sets of display traits known, including bowers, decorated display courts and bright plumage, that differ greatly in form and degree of elaboration among species. Mapping bower and plumage traits on an independently derived phylogeny constructed from mitochondrial cytochrome b sequences revealed large differences in display traits between closely related species and convergences in both morphological and behavioural traits. Plumage characters showed no effect of phylogenetic inertia, although bowers exhibited some constraint at the more fundamental level of design, but above which they appeared free of constraint. Bowers and plumage characters, therefore, are poor indicators of phylogenetic relationship in this group. Testing Gilliard's (1969) transferral hypothesis indicated some support for the idea that the focus of display has shifted from bird to bower in avenue–building species, but not in maypole–builders or in bowerbirds as a whole.

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