Ultraviolet plumage ornamentation affects social mate choice and sperm competition in bluethroats (Aves: Luscinia s. svecica): a field experiment

Arild Johnsen, Staffan Andersson, Jonas Örnborg, Jan T. Lifjeld


The blue throat feathers of male bluethroats (Luscinia s. svecica) show a reflectance peak in the ultraviolet (UV) waveband (320 to 400 nm). The throat is actively displayed during courtship, suggesting a role for sexual selection on an ultraviolet signal. Indeed, a recent aviary experiment demonstrated that females discriminated against males with artificially reduced UV reflectance (Andersson and Amundsen 1997). Here, we report the results of a similar experimental manipulation applied on free–ranging males. UV–reduced (UVR) males had a lower success in attracting mates, as judged from a significantly later start of egg laying, compared with control (C) males. UVR males also spent significantly less time advertising for additional mates when their own mate was fertile, and they had a lower success in achieving extra–pair fertilizations. Furthermore, UVR males tended to guard their mates more closely and lose more paternity in their own brood than C males did. We conclude that the treatment affected both social and extra–pair mate choice. This is the first experimental evidence that UV signalling influences male mating success in free–ranging birds.

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