Migration and the Evolution of Sexual Dichromatism: Evolutionary Loss of Female Coloration with Migration among Wood-Warblers

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The mechanisms underlying evolutionary changes in sexual dimorphism have long been of interest to biologists. A striking gradient in sexual dichromatism exists among songbirds in North America, including the wood-warblers (Parulidae): males are generally more colourful than females at northern latitudes, while the sexes are similarly ornamented at lower latitudes. We use phylogenetically controlled comparative analysis to test three nonmutually exclusive hypotheses for the evolution of sexual dichromatism among wood-warblers. The first two hypotheses focus on the loss of female coloration with the evolution of migration, either owing to the costs imposed by visual predators during migration, or owing to the relaxation of selection for female social signalling at higher latitudes. The third hypothesis focuses on whether sexual dichromatism evolved owing to changes in male ornamentation as the strength of sexual selection increases with breeding latitude. To test these hypotheses, we compared sexual dichromatism to three variables: the presence of migration, migration distance, and breeding latitude. We found that the presence of migration and migration distance were both positively correlated with sexual dichromatism, but models including breeding latitude alone were not strongly supported. Ancestral state reconstruction supports the hypothesis that the ancestral wood-warblers were monochromatic, with both colourful males and females. Combined, these results are consistent with the hypotheses that the evolution of migration is associated with the relaxation of selection for social signalling among females and that there are increased predatory costs along longer migratory routes for colourful females. These results suggest that loss of female ornamentation can be a driver of sexual dichromatism and that social or natural selection may be a stronger contributor to variation in dichromatism than sexual selection.


T.G.M. conceived of the study; R.K.S. and T.G.M. designed the study and collected the data; R.K.S., M.A.J. and T.G.M. analysed the data; R.K.S. and T.G.M. drafted the manuscript; and all authors edited and approved the final version for publication.

All data used in analyses are publicly available at the Trinity University Digital Commons (http://digitalcommons.trinity.edu/bio_faculty/56/).

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© 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.




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Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

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