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Parental choice selects for ornamental plumage in American coot chicks


ORNAMENTAL traits such as colourful bird plumage were the prime motivation for Darwin's theory of sexual selection1. Other evolutionary mechanisms could also select for ornamental traits2–6, but such mechanisms have received far less attention, and empirical evidence for their existence is weak. Here we show that parental choice selects for the bizarre ornamental plumes of newly hatched American coot (Fulica americana) chicks. Experimental manipulations of chick plumage revealed that parent coots feed ornamented chicks preferentially over non-ornamented chicks, resulting in higher growth rates and greater survival for ornamented chicks. Moreover, we show that parental preference is relative, rather than absolute, an important element in the evolution of exaggerated traits7,8. These observations provide the first empirical evidence that parental choice can select for ornamental traits in offspring.

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Lyon, B., Eadie, J. & Hamilton, L. Parental choice selects for ornamental plumage in American coot chicks. Nature 371, 240–243 (1994).

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