Bare parts in the Galliformes: the evolution of a multifunctional structure

R Soc Open Sci. 2024 Jan 10;11(1):231695. doi: 10.1098/rsos.231695. eCollection 2024 Jan.


A morphological trait can have multiple functions shaped by varying selective forces. Bare parts in birds, such as wattles, casques and combs, are known to function in both signalling and thermoregulation. Studies have demonstrated such structures are targets of sexual selection via female choice in several species of Galliformes (junglefowl, turkeys and grouse), though other studies have shown some role in thermoregulation (guineafowl). Here, we tested fundamental hypotheses regarding the evolution and maintenance of bare parts in Galliformes. Using a phylogeny that included nearly 90% of species in the order, we evaluated the role of both sexual and natural selection in shaping the function of bare parts across different clades. We found a combination of both environmental and putative sexually selected traits strongly predicted the variation of bare parts for both males and females across Galliformes. When the analysis is restricted to the largest family, Phasianidae (pheasants, junglefowl and allies), sexually selected traits were the primary predictors of bare parts. Our results suggest that bare parts are important for both thermoregulation and sexual signalling across Galliformes but are primarily under strong sexual selection within the Phasianidae.

Keywords: fleshy structure; landfowl; natural selection; phylogenetic comparative analysis; sexual selection.