Disruptive sexual selection for plumage coloration in a passerine bird

Nature. 2000 Oct 26;407(6807):1000-3. doi: 10.1038/35039500.


The theory of sexual selection was developed to explain the evolution of highly exaggerated sexual ornaments. Now supported by vast empirical evidence, sexual selection is generally considered to favour individuals with the most extreme trait expression. Here we describe disruptive selection on a sexual ornament, plumage coloration, in yearling male lazuli buntings (Passerina amoena). In habitats with limited good-quality nesting cover, the dullest and the brightest yearlings were more successful in obtaining high-quality territories, pairing with females and siring offspring, than yearlings with intermediate plumage. This pattern reflects the way that territorial adult males vary levels of aggression to influence the structure of their social neighbourhood. Adult males showed less aggression towards dull yearlings than intermediate and bright ones, permitting the dull yearlings to settle on good territories nearby. Fitness comparisons based on paternity analyses showed that both the adults and dull yearlings benefited genetically from this arrangement, revealing a rare example of sexually selected male-male cooperation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Color
  • DNA Fingerprinting
  • Feathers
  • Female
  • Male
  • Reproduction
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal*
  • Social Behavior
  • Songbirds / physiology*
  • Territoriality