Ultraviolet vision, fluorescence and mate choice in a parrot, the budgerigar Melopsittacus undulatus

Sophie M. Pearn, Andrew T.D. Bennett, Innes C. Cuthill


As in many parrots, the plumage of the budgerigar Melopsittacus undulatus reflects near–ultraviolet (UVA) wavelengths (300–400 nm) and exhibits UVA–induced fluorescence. However, there have, to our knowledge, been no tests of whether the yellow fluorescence observed under intense UVA illumination has any role in signalling. Four experiments were carried out on wild–type budgerigars, where the presence and absence of UV reflectance and fluorescence were manipulated using filters. Few studies have attempted to separate the contribution of UV reflectance to plumage hue as opposed to brightness or distinguish between a role in sexual as opposed to social preferences. However, our first experiments show that not only do females consistently prefer UV–reflecting males, but also that the observed preferences are due to removal of UV affecting the perceived hue rather than brightness. Furthermore, we found no effect of the light environment on male response to females, suggesting that the female preferences relate to plumage colour per se. Whilst UV reflectance appears important in heterosexual choice by females, it has no detectable influence on same–sex association preferences. The results from the second series of experiments suggest that enhancement of the budgerigar's yellow coloration through fluorescence has no effect on male attractiveness. However, the fluorescent plumage may play a role in signalling by virtue of the fact that it absorbs UVA and so increases contrast with nearby UV–reflecting plumage. Our study provides convincing evidence that UV reflectances can play a role in mate choice in non–passerines, but no evidence that the yellow fluorescence observed under UVA illumination is itself important as a signal.

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