Royal Society Publishing

Ultraviolet sexual dimorphism and assortative mating in blue tits

Staffan Andersson, Jonas örnborg, Malte Andersson

Abstract

In spite of strong evidence for viability–based sexual selection and sex ratio adjustments, the blue tit,Parus caeruleus, is regarded as nearly sexually monomorphic and no epigamic signals have been found. The plumage coloration has not, however, been studied in relation to bird vision, which extends to the UV–A waveband (320 to 400 nm). Using molecular sex determination and UV/VIS spectrometry, we report here that blue tits are sexually dichromatic in UV/blue spectral purity (chroma) of the brilliant crown patch. It is displayed in courtship by horizontal posturing and erected nape feathers. A previously undescribed sexual dimorphism in crown size (controlling for body size) further supports its role as an epigamic ornament. Against grey–brown leaf litter and bark during pair formation in early spring, but also against green vegetation, UV contributes strongly to conspicuousness and sexual dimorphism. This should be further enhanced by the UV/bluish early morning skylight (‘woodland shade’) in which blue tits display. Among 18 breeding pairs, there was strong assortative mating with respect to UV chroma, but not size, of the crown ornament. We conclude that blue tits are markedly sex dimorphic in their own visual world, and that UV/violet coloration probably plays a role in blue tit mate acquisition.

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