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Is UV signalling involved in male-male territorial conflict in the blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)? A new experimental approach

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Structurally-based ultraviolet (UV) coloration of plumage can signal male quality and plays a role in female mate choice in many bird species. UV-reflecting badges could also be important signals in male-male competition. We tested if territorial blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) males discriminate between conspecific male intruders which differ in the UV reflectance of their crown feathers. To this aim, we used a new experimental approach in which we simultaneously (instead of sequentially) introduced two male blue tit taxidermic mounts in the territories of resident males during the female fertile period; one mount with natural crown UV reflectance and one mount with reduced crown UV. The two mounts provoked strong aggressive reactions from resident males. Males specifically directed their aggression to conspecific intruders, as a male blue tit mount received substantially more aggression than a mount of a European robin (Erithacus rubecula). However, aggression of resident males did not vary between the UV-reduced and the control mount. Furthermore, the variation in natural crown UV reflectance of the resident males did not predict the intensity of their aggressive response. Contrary to previous findings our results suggest that UV signals play only a limited role in male-male interactions during territorial intrusions in the female fertile period.

Affiliations: 1: Animal Ecology Group, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, University of Groningen, P.O. Box 14, 9750 AA Haren, The Netherlands


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