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.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.83 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Darwin, C. The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (Murray, London, 1871).
Dobzhansky, T. Am. Nat. 74, 312–321 (1940).
Baker, R. R. & Parker, G. A. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 287, 63–130 (1979).
West-Eberhard, M. J. Proc. Am. Phil. Soc. 132, 222–243 (1979).
West-Eberhard, M. J. Q. Rev. Biol. 58, 155–183 (1983).
Zahavi, A. Anim. Behav. 42, 501–503 (1991).
Arnold, S. in Mate Choice (ed. Bateson, P.) 67–107 (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1983).
Zuk, M., Johnson, K., Thornhill, R. & Ligon, J. D. Evolution 44, 477–485 (1990).
Harrison, C. A Field Guide to the Nests, Eggs and Nestlings of North American Birds (Collins, Toronto, 1984).
Boyd, H. J. & Alley, R. Ibis 90, 582–593 (1948).
Andersson, M. Nature 299, 818–820 (1982).
Kodric-Brown, A. Behavl Ecol. Sociobiol. 17, 199–205 (1985).
Lyon, B. Anim. Behav. 46, 911–928 (1993).
Ripley, D. Rails of the World (Godine, Boston, 1977).
Ryan, M. J. & Keddy-Hector, A. Am. Nat. 139, S4–S35 (1992).
Zahavi, A. in International Symposium of Biological Evolution (ed. Delfino, V. P.) (Adriatica Editrice, Bari, 1987).
Grafen, A. J. Theor. Biol. 144, 517–546 (1990).
Stephenson, A. G. & Winsor, J. A. Evolution 40, 453–458 (1986).
Godfray, H. C. J. Nature 352, 328–330 (1991).
Kirkpatrick, M. & Ryan, M. J. Nature 350, 33–38 (1991).
Lyon, B. thesis, Princeton Univ. (1992).
Lyon, B. Condor (in the press).
About this article
Cite this article
Lyon, B., Eadie, J. & Hamilton, L. Parental choice selects for ornamental plumage in American coot chicks. Nature 371, 240–243 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1038/371240a0
Behavioral Ecology (2019)
The Auk (2019)
The Quarterly Review of Biology (2018)
Behavioral Ecology (2018)
Nature Communications (2018)