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Sexual imprinting on a novel blue ornament in zebra finches

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Sexual imprinting plays an important role for the development of mate preferences in birds. We tested whether male and female zebra finches Taeniopygia guttata sexually imprinted on an evolutionary novel trait, a blue feather on the forehead in parents. Additionally, we tested whether males and females would transfer a learned preference for the blue feather to a preference for blue leg bands, and whether a potential mate with two novel blue traits can amplify its attractiveness. Offspring were raised by parents in four different imprinting groups: (1) both parents unadorned; (2) the mother adorned only; (3) the father adorned only; (4) both parents adorned with the blue feather. After young reached maturity, we tested their mate preference for adorned and unadorned conspecifics of the opposite sex in binary choice tests. Females of the father adorned imprinting group sexually imprinted on the blue feather, and females reared by adorned parents showed a tendency to prefer adorned males. None of the males sexually imprinted on the blue feather. Our study replicates the results of a previous study on sexual imprinting on a red feather in zebra finches. We, therefore, propose a sex difference in the learning process of sexual imprinting. Females sexually imprinted on the blue feather did not transfer the learned preference to males with blue leg bands, and two novel blue traits could not amplify the attractiveness in males and females for the opposite sex. Our study emphasizes the role of sexual imprinting for the cultural evolution in mate preferences in zebra finches.


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