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Mate Selection and Colour Preferences in Lesser Snow Geese

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The assortative mating which has been found in the dimorphic Lesser Snow Goose, Anser caerulescens caerulescens, could be explained if birds chose mates according to the colour of their parents and/or sibs. Three distinct captive flocks were tested for colour preferences in terms of: 1) approach response, 2) association preferences, and 3) mate selection. 1) Approach responses. Young birds placed in a choice situation had a significant preference for birds of the parental colour. Sib colour when different from parental colour appeared to modify their choice. If parents were removed during adolescence the early colour preferences could be altered, the most recent associations determining the preferences. The pattern of response did not change in tests carried out at the age of 3 months and repeated at 11 months. The presence or absence of auditory cues did not alter the pattern of response. No differences were detected in the responses of gosling to maternal versus paternal colour. 2) Association preferences. In an open field situation, birds usually associate with their peer group at both one and two years of age. The degree of association with the peer group is less at two years than at one year. When birds associate with non-peer group birds they show a distinct tendency to associate with birds which are the same colour as their peer group. 3) Mate selection. In the flock which was raised as a single large group, with virtually no parental contact, pair formation did not depart from randomness in terms of colour, suggesting that non-random mate selection in Snow Geese is not an inherent property but is a function of their prepairing experience. In the flock which consisted of families where the foster parents were of one colour and the sibs of a different colour, and in which the foster parents were removed after one year, the pairing at two and three years of age was non-random; pair formation reflected preference based on sib/self colouring. It is concluded that familial plumage colour does influence colour preferences in terms of approach response, association preferences and mate selection. However, continuous association with birds of parental plumage colour is a prerequisite for this colour to influence mate selection. If the parent is removed (as happens in the wild) the colour preference may be altered but it is more likely that the preference will be maintained through association with birds of familial plumage colour. Thus, directly or indirectly, parental colour will influence mate selection.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Queen's University, Kingston, Canada

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