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In species in which both sexes have similar ornamentation, the ornaments often function as sexual or social signals in both sexes. However, males and females may use ornaments in different signalling contexts. We previously demonstrated that carotenoid-based bill colour of female American goldfinches, Spinus tristis, functions as a signal of status during intrasexual, but not intersexual, competition. Here we test whether male bill colour functions as a competitive status signal during both intra- and intersexual contests. We tested whether focal males and females avoided feeding adjacent to taxidermic male models as a function of the models’ experimentally altered bill colour. We additionally tested whether male bill colour functions as a mate choice signal by presenting females with a choice of two live males with experimentally altered bill colour. In the status signal experiment, neither focal males nor females avoided male models with more colourful bills, as was predicted by the status-signalling hypothesis. These results indicate that male bill coloration does not function as a signal of competitive status and that the signal function of male bill colour does not parallel that of female bill colour. In our mate choice experiment, females showed no preference for male bill colour, suggesting that male bill colour may have some yet untested signalling function or that male bill colour may no longer be under selection. Our findings suggest that selection can lead to different signalling strategies in males and females, even in species that express mutual ornamentation.





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Animal Behaviour

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