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Sexual selection and tail streamers in the barn swallow

AuthorsMøller, Anders Pape; Barbosa, Andrés ; Cuervo, José Javier ; Lope, F. de; Merino, Santiago ; Saino, N.
Costs of sexual selection
Hirundo rustica
Reliable signalling
Tail manipulation
Issue Date1999
PublisherRoyal Society (Great Britain)
CitationProceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B (1998) 265, 409-414
AbstractThe functional signi¢cance of elongated, narrow tips of the tail feathers of certain birds, so-called tail streamers, has recently been discussed from an aerodynamic point of view, and the e¡ects of sexual selection on such traits have been questioned. We review our long-term ¢eld studies using observational and experimental approaches to investigate natural and sexual selection in the barn swallow, Hirundo rustica, which has sexually size-dimorphic outermost tail feathers. Experimental manipulation of the length of the outermost tail feathers has demonstrated sexual selection advantages of tail elongation and disadvantages of tail shortening, with opposite e¡ects for natural selection in terms of foraging e¤ciency, haematocrit and survival. These ¢ndings are contrary to the prediction of a general deterioration from both shortening and elongation, if the tail trait was determined solely by its e¡ects on aerodynamic e¤ciency and £ight manoeuvrability. Patterns of sexual selection in manipulated birds conform with patterns in unmanipulated birds, and selection di¡erentials for di¡erent components of sexual selection in manipulated birds are strongly positively correlated with di¡erentials in unmanipulated birds. Age and sex di¡erences in tail length, and geographical patterns of sexual size dimorphism, are also consistent with sexual selection theory, but inconsistent with a purely natural selection advantage of long outermost tail feathers in male barn swallows.
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.1998.0309
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