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Age-related change in melanin-based coloration of Barn owls (Tyto alba): females that become more female-like and males that become more male-like perform better
Biological Journal of the Linnean Society
Ornament expression fluctuates with age in many organisms. Whether these changes are adaptively plastic is poorly known. In order to understand the ultimate function of melanin-based ornaments, we studied their within-individual fluctuations and their covariation with fitness-related traits. In barn owls (Tyto alba), individuals vary from reddish-brown pheomelanic to white and from immaculate to marked with black eumelanic spots, males being less reddish and less spotted than females. During the first molt, both sexes became less pheomelanic, females displayed larger spots and males fewer spots, but the extent of these changes was not associated with reproduction. At subsequent molts, intra-individual changes in melanin-based traits covaried with simultaneous reproduction changes. Adult females bred earlier in the season and laid larger eggs when they became scattered with larger spots, while adults of both sexes produced larger broods when they became whiter. These results suggest that the production of melanin pigments and fitness-related life history traits are concomitantly regulated in a sex-specific way.
age, life history, ornament, phenotype plasticity
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