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Consistent contrast between eyelid and iris brightness supports a role for vigilance signalling in ducks

AuthorsGuillemain, M.; Fouque, Carol; Figuerola, Jordi
resting ducks
Issue Date2012
CitationIbis (2012), 154, 461–467
AbstractSignalling self-ability to maintain vigilance may help in securing a mate, while providing accurate information about vigilance status may result in conspecifics adjusting their own scanning rate of the environment, potentially to the individual’s benefit. In birds, vigilance is often associated with head-up postures adopted within a bout of head-down activity, and this can be used by conspecifics to assess the vigilance of their flock mates. However, vigilance behaviour is not always obvious and other cues may then be used to assess vigilance rates of conspecifics. Here we assess whether iris/eyelid/face patterns from 43 duck species are consistent with the hypothesis that eyelid brightness has evolved so as to contrast with iris brightness, which may then help in signalling individ- ual vigilance status. Ducks generally flock when resting during the day, and because of their wide visual fields, individuals can monitor their environment while remaining in a resting head-down position. Ducks also show a wide variety of plumage and iris pat- terns, with both light-headed and dark-headed species. Matching our prediction, most ducks with dark irises had pale eyelids, irrespective of head colour. Furthermore, the smaller number of species with a pale iris generally have darker eyelids. A phylogenetic analysis shows a clear and significant association in the evolution of eyelid and iris brightness patterns in both males and females. These data therefore provide support for the hypothesis that eyelid brightness has evolved to act as a contrast with iris brightness. Further studies are now needed to examine the extent to which and the way this is used in vigilance information transfer between individuals.
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1111/j.1474-919X.2012.01240.x
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