The forces shaping female plumage color have long been debated but remain unresolved. Females may benefit from conspicuous colors but are also expected to suffer costs. Predation is one potential cost, but few studies have explicitly investigated the relationship between predation risk and coloration. The fairy-wrens show pronounced variation in female coloration and reside in a wide variety of habitats across Australasia. Species with more conspicuous females are found in denser habitats, suggesting that conspicuousness in open habitat increases vulnerability to predators. To test this, we measured attack rates on 3-D-printed models mimicking conspicuously colored males and females and dull females in eight different fairy-wren habitats across Australia. Attack rates were higher in open habitats and at higher latitudes. Contrary to our predictions, dull female models were attacked at similar rates to the conspicuous models. Further, the probability of attack in open habitats increased more for both types of female models than for the conspicuous male model. Across models, the degree of contrast (chromatic and achromatic) to environmental backgrounds was unrelated to predation rate. These findings do not support the long-standing hypothesis that conspicuous plumage, in isolation, is costly due to increased attraction of predators. Our results indicate that conspicuousness interacts with other factors in driving the evolution of plumage coloration.
- Predation risk
- Sexual dichromatism