The signalling of good genes, good skills and personality: bird coloration and song as models

Principal researcher: Juan Carlos Senar

Period: 2009-2013

Although the evolution of sexual signalling has recently attracted a great deal of interest in evolutionary biology, several key points remain unresolved. The first one relates to how signal reliability is maintained. Although several mechanisms have been suggested, the topic is highly controversial. One of the main aims of the project is to investigate experimentally, mechanisms to maintain the honesty of sexual and social signals. A second key unresolved topic relates to understanding what kind of benefits signal receivers may acquire and which is the information encoded in signals, especially from a genetic point of view. Our aim is to relate the major histocompatibility gene complex (MHC) to plumage coloration and bird song, which can have inferences for the good-genes hypothesis. A third key unresolved topic relates to the evolution of multiple signals of male quality. If signals can encode different information and these are uncorrelated, it is reasonable to predict that different units of information can be signalled by different ornaments/armaments. Our aim is to provide experimental data on how different patches of plumage colours within an individual or even different qualities of the same patch (i.e. hue and chroma) can provide different units of information. Because individual differences in social behaviour (i.e. personality) may have consequences for mate and group companion choice and sexual/social signalling, we predict that partners should develop preferences for personalities that maximize reproductive output and individual fitness. Hence, our final aim is to relate variation in plumage coloration and song, within the framework of multiple signals, to avian personalities and hence, to the evolution of strategies and signalling.