Royal Society Publishing

A novel song parameter correlates with extra-pair paternity and reflects male longevity

Wolfgang Forstmeier, Bart Kempenaers, Axel Meyer, Bernd Leisler


Although elaborate bird song provides one of the prime examples of a trait that evolved under sexual selection, it is still unclear whether females judge the quality of males by attributes of their song and whether these song features honestly signal a mal's genetic quality. We measured the ability of male dusky warblers Phylloscopus fuscatus to maintain a high sound amplitude during singing, which probably reflects an individua's physiological limitations. This new measure of singing performance was correlated with male longevity and with extra–pair paternity, indicating that females who copulated with better singers obtained ‘good gene’ for their offspring. Our findings are consistent with the idea that females assess male quality by subtle differences in their performance during the production of notes, rather than by the quantity or versatility of song. In addition, observations on territorial conflicts indicate that attractive males invest less in competition over territories because they can reproduce via extra–pair paternity.

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