CIE Spotlight: Flight initiation distances in relation to sexual dichromatism and body size in birds from three continents

Mike W.
Mike W.

Title: Flight initiation distances in relation to sexual dichromatism and body size in birds from three continents

Authors: Moller, Anders P.; Samia, Diogo S. M.; Weston, Michael A.; Guay, Patrick-Jean; Blumstein, Daniel T.


Brief summary of the paper: Predators exert strong selection pressures on their prey. Prey would therefore benefit by adjusting their behaviour to the risk of predation, while predators conversely would benefit from adjusting their behaviour to that of their prey.

Extravagant ornamentation has evolved to attract mates and/or successfully compete with conspecifics of the same sex to secure high mating success, even if that occurs at a cost of increased risk of predation. Thus, sexually dichromatic species may be more susceptible to predation than sexually monochromatic species, and the presence of compensation is indicative of such species being more vulnerable.

If extravagant ornamentation is costly in terms of predation risk, then we should expect sexually dichromatic species to have longer flight initiation distances (FID) than sexually monochromatic species. If ornamentation is acquired as a handicap with only individuals in prime condition being able to display with the smallest viability cost, we should expect sexually dichromatic individuals to have shorter FID than sexually monochromatic individuals. Such differences among individuals should, on an evolutionary time scale, translate into differences in FID being related to differences in sexual dichromatism among species.

We investigated the relationship between FID and sexual dichromatism in phylogenetic analyses, while accounting for effects of continent (Australia, North America, and Europe), body mass, the interaction between sexual dichromatism and body mass and the interaction between sexual dichromatism and continent. In an analysis of 447 species we found shorter FID in sexually dichromatic than in sexually monochromatic species (consistent with the handicap hypothesis because sexually dichromatic species took greater risks), especially so at large body size. FID differed among continents and the relative difference in FID between sexually monochromatic and sexually dichromatic species was larger in Europe than in Australia and North America.

These differences among continents may be attributed to latitudinal effects of predation. These findings are important for current ideas about the evolution of secondary sexual characters because they imply covarying continental differences in predation, especially for large bodied sexually dichromatic species.