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

in Behaviour
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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.

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

in Behaviour



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    Reflectance spectra from the back and rump feathers of female tree swallows measured before (solid black line) and after treatment with blue permanent marker to enhanced plumage brightness (top grey line; N=14) and silicone paste to reduce plumage brightness (bottom grey line; N=14). Presented are the means (± SE) at every 50 nm interval from 300 to 700 nm. See Methods for specific details regarding plumage manipulations.

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    Mean (± SE) feeding rates (trips/hour/nestling) of male tree swallows rearing broods where (a) female plumage brightness was experimentally reduced or enhanced, or remained unchanged (controls) and (b) female plumage was experimentally altered (enhanced and reduced treatments combined) or remained unchanged (control). Sample sizes indicate the number of broods within each treatment group and are given above error bars.

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    Mean (± SE) feeding rates expressed as (a) trips/hour/nestling and (b) trips/hour of male tree swallows rearing broods where brood size was reduced by removing two nestlings, enlarged by adding two nestlings, or remained unchanged (controls). Sample sizes indicate the number of broods within each treatment group and are given above error bars.

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    Mean (± SE) (a) length of ninth primary flight feathers (mm) at day 16 and (b) fledging success (proportion of nestlings fledged per brood) for nestling tree swallows according to brood size treatment (reduced by two nestlings, increased by two nestlings, controls) and female plumage brightness treatment (experimentally reduced and enhanced compared to controls). Sample sizes indicate the number of broods within each treatment group and are given above error bars.

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