Correlated evolution of migration and sexual dichromatism in the New World orioles (icterus)

Evolution. 2009 Dec;63(12):3269-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00792.x. Epub 2009 Jul 30.


The evolution of sexual dimorphism has long been attributed to sexual selection, specifically as it would drive repeated gains of elaborate male traits. In contrast to this pattern, New World oriole species all exhibit elaborate male plumage, and the repeated gains of sexual dichromatism observed in the genus are due to losses of female elaboration. Interestingly, most sexually dichromatic orioles belong to migratory or temperate-breeding clades. Using character scoring and ancestral state reconstructions from two recent studies in Icterus, we tested a hypothesis of correlated evolution between migration and sexual dichromatism. We employed two discrete phylogenetic comparative approaches: the concentrated changes test and Pagel's discrete likelihood test. Our results show that the evolution of these traits is significantly correlated (CCT: uncorrected P < 0.05; ML: LRT = 12.470, P < 0.005). Indeed, our best model of character evolution suggests that gains of sexual dichromatism are 23 times more likely to occur in migratory taxa. This study demonstrates that a life-history trait with no direct relationship with sexual selection has a strong influence on the evolution of sexual dichromatism. We recommend that researchers further investigate the role of selection on elaborate female traits in the evolution of sexual dimorphism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Migration*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Color*
  • Female
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Songbirds / genetics*
  • Songbirds / physiology