Multiple achromatic plumage ornaments signal to multiple receivers
We investigated whether achromatic plumage traits can act as multiple ornaments in an Arctic-breeding passerine, the snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis). Specifically, we examine whether multiple ornaments are providing multiple differing messages, are redundant, are unreliable signals of male quality, or are aimed at different receivers. We measured plumage reflectance and pigmentation patterns made conspicuous during male inter- and intrasexual displays that advertise different plumage regions. Our results indicate that although several aspects of male plumage may have redundant messages, different body regions appear aimed at different receivers. The wings of males—displayed primarily toward females during courtship—appear to indicate a pair’s future reproductive performance. Conversely, melanin-based plumage reflectance displayed during intrasexual threat displays provides information on territory features and a male’s capacity to defend it (i.e., territory size, territory quality, testosterone levels). Taken together, we suggest that snow buntings have multiple ornaments that provide information of differential importance in inter- versus intrasexual communication. This study demonstrates that achromatic plumage traits can serve in complex communication.
Guindre-Parker, Sarah; Gilchrist, H. Grant; Baldo, Sarah; Doucet, Stephanie M.; and Love, Oliver P., "Multiple achromatic plumage ornaments signal to multiple receivers" (2013). Behavioral Ecology, 24, 3, 672-682.