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Carotenoid-based plumage colouration in red bishops (Euplectes orix) — signalling presence rather than quality?

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The role of bright plumage colouration for female choice has been the focus of research in sexual selection for many years, with several studies showing that females prefer the most elaborately ornamented males, which are often also the highest quality individuals. Here, we analysed the associations between reproductive performance and plumage, body condition and blood parasite load in the red bishop (Euplectes orix), a sexually dimorphic and polygynous weaverbird species, where males in a carotenoid-based orange-to-red breeding plumage defend territories and build many nests to which they try to attract females. Male reproductive success in terms of number of nests accepted was mainly determined by the number of nests built, but was also positively related to blood parasite load, while we found no influence of plumage characteristics. Together with previously obtained data, our results indicate that plumage characteristics in the red bishop do not affect male reproductive success and are generally not suitable to reliably indicate male quality. We suggest that the primary function of the brilliant orange-scarlet breeding plumage might be presence signalling in terms of increasing conspicuousness of breeding males to females searching for mates.

Affiliations: 1: Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Department of Biology and Environmental Sciences, Animal Physiology & Behaviour Group, P.O. Box 2503, 26111 Oldenburg, Germany, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, Department of Biology II, Grosshadernerstr 2, D-82152 Planegg-Martinsried, Germany; 2: Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Department of Biology and Environmental Sciences, Animal Physiology & Behaviour Group, P.O. Box 2503, 26111 Oldenburg, Germany;, Email:


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