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Experimentally altered plumage brightness of female tree swallows: a test of the differential allocation hypothesis

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The differential allocation hypothesis posits that individuals should invest in the current reproductive attempt according to the attractiveness of their mate, but studies of allocation by males when female traits are manipulated to be more attractive are lacking. In the current study, we experimentally enhanced and reduced the plumage brightness of female tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) relative to controls to examine whether males adjust investment in parental care according to female attractiveness, while simultaneously performing a brood size manipulation. Contrary to our predictions, we found no evidence that males provisioned nestlings according to the plumage brightness of females. However, we found that nestling quality and fledging success were lowest when female plumage brightness was reduced and brood size was enlarged. This may be due to the plumage brightness treatment influencing agonistic interactions with other females, and may suggest that plumage brightness is a signal assessed by females.

Affiliations: 1: Ecosystem Science and Management, University of Northern British Columbia, 3333 University Way, Prince George, BC, Canada V2N 4Z9

*Corresponding author’s e-mail address:

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