Background: Both natural and sexual selection may drive the evolution of plumage colouration in birds. This can lead to great variation in plumage not only across species, but also between sexes within species. Australasian fairy-wrens are famous for their brightly coloured males, which exhibit colours ranging from bright blue to red and black. Female plumage in fairy wrens (and in general) has been rarely studied, but it can also be highly variable, including both bright and cryptic plumages. We use a comparative framework to explore the basis for this variation, and test the possibility that female fairy-wrens experience selection for cryptic plumage when they occupy more exposed habitats that offer little concealment from predators. We use spectral measurements of plumage for species and subspecies of Australasian fairy-wrens.
Results: We show that female colouration (contrast against background) is strongly correlated with vegetation cover: females in open habitats show less contrast to background colours than females in closed habitats, while male colouration is not associated with habitat type.
Conclusions: Female plumage appears to be under stronger natural selection than male plumage in fairy-wrens, providing an example of how selection may act differently on males and females of the same species.
- Sexual dimorphism