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Flight, fitness, and sexual selection

AuthorsMøller, Anders Pape; Barbosa, Andrés
Sexual selection
Issue Date2001
PublisherInternational Society for Behavioral Ecology
CitationBehavioral Ecology, Vol. 12 No. 4: 511-512
AbstractBuchanan and Evans (2000) have recently suggested that the length of the tail streamer of the barn swallow Hirundo rustica is influenced to a large extent by natural selection, although sexual selection also plays a role. This conclusion was reached from analyses of video films of the flight of males and females after reducing the length of their tails by a variable amount ranging from 0 to 20 mm. Evans (1998) has previously made a similar experiment with a 20 mm manipulation. The optimum phenotype was subsequently derived from analyses of the flight parameters, while taking a number of other factors such as sex, farm, morphology, and date into account. Here we suggest that although it is likely that in fact streamer evolution was due to both natural and sexual selection, there is little direct evidence to support the reported conclusions. Although natural selection obviously plays a role in determining the selective landscape affecting tail length (e.g., Møller, 1989; Møller et al., 1995; Saino and Møller, 1996; Saino et al., 1997), it is far from clear that the cost is mainly measured in terms of foraging ability. Other factors like parasitism and disease have already been shown to be important (Saino and Møller, 1996; Saino et al., 1997). The reasons why the paper by Buchanan and Evans (2000) does not resolve whether tail length is mainly influenced by natural or sexual selection are as follows. (1) Buchanan and Evans did not standardize the conditions under which the measurements were made. (2) They provide no direct evidence for any of their aerodynamic parameters having a fitness consequence. (3) The birds were filmed at variable intervals since the experimental manipulation. (4) The context in which the flight behavior was recorded does not represent the relevant selective pressure.
Publisher version (URL)http://beheco.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/12/4/511
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