Detectability matters: conspicuous nestling mouth colours make prey transfer easier for parents in a cavity nesting bird.


:An often underappreciated function of signals is to notify receivers of the presence and position of senders. The colours that ornament the mouthparts of nestling birds, for example, have been hypothesized to evolve via selective pressure generated by parents' inability to efficiently detect and feed nestlings without such visually conspicuous targets. This proposed mechanism has primarily been evaluated with comparative studies and experimental tests for parental allocation bias, leaving untested the central assumption of this detectability hypothesis, that provisioning offspring is a visually challenging task for avian parents and conspicuous mouths help. To test this assumption, I manipulated the mouths of nestling house sparrows to appear minimally and maximally conspicuous, and quantified prey transfer difficulty as the total duration of a feeding event and the number of transfer attempts required. Prey transfer to inconspicuous nestlings was, as predicted, more difficult. While this suggests that detectability constraints could shape nestling mouth colour evolution, even minimally conspicuous nestlings were not prohibitively difficult for parents to feed, indicating that a more nuanced explanation for interspecific diversity in this trait is needed.


Biol Lett


Biology letters


Dugas MB




Has Abstract


2015-11-01 00:00:00












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