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Absolute and relative signals: a comparison between melanin- and carotenoid-based patches

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Some signalling traits may be highly influenced by environmental factors, thereby decreasing between-year trait repeatability what could compromise the honesty of signal. However, although the repeatability of environmentally-influenced traits of individuals between years may be low, their relative position within the population can be maintained (i.e. significant correlation between years). In the great tit Parus major, individual hue of the yellow breast coloration, an environmentally influenced trait, showed a significant correlation between years in spite of repeatability between years being very low. However, the size of the black breast band, a heritable trait, showed both a high correlation and inter-year repeatability. Results emphasise the distinction between absolute and relative signals and also suggest that for environmentally-influenced ornaments, individuals maintain their relative position on a continuum.

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