The role of pigment based plumage traits in resolving conflicts




Young, Catherine
Cain, Kristal
Svedin, Nina
Backwell, Patricia
Pryke, Sarah

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Munksgaard International Publishers


The role of melanin ‘badges of status’, in male–male competition has been well-studied, in contrast, carotenoid based plumage has largely been examined in the context of female mate choice. Recent work has shown that carotenoid signals can also function in male–male competition, although the functions of the two types of signals is currently unclear. Here, we examine the relationships between colouration, dominance and aggression in the crimson finch Neochmia phaeton, a species where males have both conspicuous red carotenoid plumage and a black melanin patch. We examined the importance of carotenoid and melanin based signals in three contexts: 1) among free-living birds interacting at a feeding station: we found that neither colour signal influenced the outcome of interactions; 2) in staged dyadic contest in captivity: we found that coloration from carotenoid pigments was positively related to the probability of winning a contest, while the size of the melanin plumage patch was not related to winning; and 3) in staged dyadic contests where male plumage colour had been masked: we found that the number of interactions required to determine dominance increased. While the underlying natural plumage colour was still important in these contests, birds with more intense carotenoid colouration were now more likely to lose. These results confirm carotenoid-based signalling in male–male contests. However this signal is used in conjunction with other factors such as self-assessment and body condition. Contrary to traditional expectations, the black melanin patch was not found to be important in this context.





Journal of Avian Biology


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