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Genetic, environmental and condition-dependent effects on female and male plumage ornamentation
Secondary sexual characters are thought to indicate individual quality. Expression of sex-limited traits in an extravagant state may require both the underlying genes and the available nutrient resources. The assessment of the relative contribution of genes, environment, and body condition is relevant for understanding to that extent the extravagant trait may signal genotypic or phenotypic quality of the individual. In birds, usually only the males are ornamented. In the barn owl, Tyto alba, both females and males display sex-limited plumage traits. Males are commonly lighter colored and females spottier. In an experiment with combined cross-fostering and brood size manipulation we determined the relative contribution of genes, environment, and body condition to the variation in plumage coloration and plumage spottiness. The partial cross-fostering experiment tested the relative importance of shared genes and a shared environment for the resemblance of related birds. Siblings raised in different nests converged toward similar trait values, offspring resembled the true but not the foster parents, and plumage traits of unrelated nestlings sharing the same nest were not correlated. Results were not inflated by maternal effects detectable in the mother's phenotype, because middaughter to mother resemblance was not higher than midson to father resemblance. This suggests that plumage coloration and spottiness are largely genetically inherited traits, and that the rearing environment does not have a strong impact on the expression of these traits. To further investigate whether the two sex-limited traits are condition dependent, brood sizes were manipulated. Enlargement or reduction of broods by two nestlings resulted in lower and higher body mass of nestlings, respectively. However, nestlings raised in enlarged or reduced broods did not show either a significantly darker or lighter or a more or less spotted plumage. We did not detect any genotype-by-environment interaction. In conclusion, simultaneous cross-fostering and brood size manipulation demonstrate that additive genetic variance for plumage coloration and spottiness is maintained and that both the rearing environment and body condition do not account for a large proportion of the phenotypic variance in female and male ornamentations
condition-dependent plumage traits, environmental effects, genetic plumage polymorphisms, secondary sexual characters, Tyto alba
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