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Title

Adaptive significance of permanent female mimicry in a bird of prey

AuthorsSternalski, Audrey ; Mougeot, François ; Bretagnolle, Vincent
KeywordsSexual dichromatism
Paternity assurance
Marsh harrier
Alternative behavioural strategies
Colour morph
Issue Date2012
PublisherRoyal Society (Great Britain)
CitationBiology Letters 8(2): 167-170 (2012)
AbstractPermanent female mimicry, in which adult males express a female phenotype, is known only from two bird species. A likely benefit of female mimicry is reduced intrasexual competition, allowing female-like males to access breeding resources while avoiding costly fights with typical territorial males. We tested this hypothesis in a population of marsh harriers Circus aeruginosus in which approximately 40 per cent of sexually mature males exhibit a permanent, i.e. lifelong, female plumage phenotype. Using simulated territorial intrusions, we measured aggressive responses of breeding males towards conspecific decoys of females, female-like males and typical males. We show that aggressive responses varied with both the type of decoys and the type of defending male. Typical males were aggressive towards typical male decoys more than they were towards female-like male decoys; femalelike male decoys were attacked at a rate similar to that of female decoys. By contrast, femalelike males tolerated male decoys (both typical and female-like) and directed their aggression towards female decoys. Thus, agonistic responses were intrasexual in typical males but intersexual in female-like males, indicating that the latter not only look like females but also behave like them when defending breeding resources. When intrasexual aggression is high, permanent female mimicry is arguably adaptive and could be seen as a permanent 'non-aggression pact' with other males.
URIhttp://hdl.handle.net/10261/143210
DOI10.1098/rsbl.2011.0914
Identifiersdoi: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0914
issn: 1744-9561
e-issn: 1744-957X
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