Sunday, October 16, 2022

Female birds disguised as males get extra meals: Around 20% of female hummingbirds have plumage that is characteristic of the males of the species, & this increases access to food resources through mimicry of more aggressive males

Intersexual social dominance mimicry drives female hummingbird polymorphism. Jay J. Falk, Dustin R. Rubenstein, Alejandro Rico-Guevara and Michael S. Webster. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, September 7 2022.

Abstract: Female-limited polymorphisms, where females have multiple forms but males have only one, have been described in a variety of animals, yet are difficult to explain because selection typically is expected to decrease rather than maintain diversity. In the white-necked jacobin (Florisuga mellivora), all males and approximately 20% of females express an ornamented plumage type (androchromic), while other females are non-ornamented (heterochromic). Androchrome females benefit from reduced social harassment, but it remains unclear why both morphs persist. Female morphs may represent balanced alternative behavioural strategies, but an alternative hypothesis is that androchrome females are mimicking males. Here, we test a critical prediction of these hypotheses by measuring morphological, physiological and behavioural traits that relate to resource-holding potential (RHP), or competitive ability. In all these traits, we find little difference between female types, but higher RHP in males. These results, together with previous findings in this species, indicate that androchrome females increase access to food resources through mimicry of more aggressive males. Importantly, the mimicry hypothesis provides a clear theoretical pathway for polymorphism maintenance through frequency-dependent selection. Social dominance mimicry, long suspected to operate between species, can therefore also operate within species, leading to polymorphism and perhaps similarities between sexes more generally.

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