Melanin Coloration Has Temperature-Dependent Effects on Breeding Performance That May Maintain Phenotypic Variation in a Passerine Bird

J Evol Biol. 2010 Nov;23(11):2385-96. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2010.02100.x. Epub 2010 Sep 15.


Fluctuating selection pressure may maintain phenotypic variation because of different types of individuals being adapted to different environmental conditions. We show that the extensive variation in the coloration of male pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) can be maintained through differences in the reproductive success of male phenotypes under different conditions. The effects of weather conditions on the relative success of different male phenotypes varied between different phases of breeding. The reproductive output of black males was the highest when it was cold during egg-laying but warm during the nestling period, whereas the fledgling production of brown males was highest when it was continuously warm. In addition, male forehead and wing patch sizes had context-dependent effects on timing of breeding and nestling mortality, respectively. These results indicate that environmental heterogeneity plays a role in maintaining phenotypic variation. As melanin-based coloration is heritable, climate change may alter phenotype frequencies depending on the patterns of warming.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fertility / physiology
  • Finland
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Melanins / metabolism*
  • Passeriformes / physiology*
  • Phenotype*
  • Pigmentation / physiology*
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Temperature*


  • Melanins