Title

Egg coloration in ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis): a test of the sexual signaling hypothesis

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2009

Publication Title

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

Volume

63

Issue

5

First Page

719

Last Page

729

DOI

10.1007/s00265-008-0705-2

Abstract

Although many avian eggs appear to be cryptically colored, many species also lay vibrant blue green eggs. This seemingly conspicuous coloration has puzzled biologists since Wallace, as natural selection should favor reduced egg visibility to minimize predation pressure. The sexual signaling hypothesis posits that blue green egg coloration serves as a signal of female quality and that males exert post-mating sexual selection on this trait by investing more in the nests of females laying more intensely blue green eggs. This hypothesis has received mixed support to date, and most previous studies have been conducted in cavity-nesting species where male evaluation of his partner’s egg coloration, relative to that of other females, may be somewhat limited. In this study, we test the sexual signaling hypothesis in colonially nesting ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis) where males have ample opportunity to assess their mate’s egg coloration relative to that of other females. We used correlational data and an experimental manipulation to test four assumptions and predictions of the sexual signaling hypothesis: (1) blue green pigmentation should be limiting to females; (2) extent of blue green egg coloration should relate to female quality; (3) extent of blue green egg coloration should relate to offspring quality; and (4) males should provide more care to clutches with higher blue green chroma. Our data provide little support for these predictions of the sexual signaling hypothesis in ring-billed gulls. In light of this and other empirical data, we encourage future studies to consider additional hypotheses for the evolution of blue green egg coloration.

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