Evol Ecol Res 3: 703-720 (2001)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Social foraging and the evolution of white plumage

Guy Beauchamp1* and Philipp Heeb2

1Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Montréal, CP 5000, St-Hyacinthe, Québec J2S 7C6, Canada and 2Institut d’Ecologie, University of Lausanne, Bâtiment de Biologie, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland

Author to whom all correspondence should be addressed.
e-mail: beauchgu@medvet.umontreal.ca


The significance of social foraging to the evolution of avian plumage traits has received little attention. White plumage could increase conspicuousness against a dark background and serve as a passive recruitment signal to attract distant foraging companions. White plumage could thus be selected if white individuals obtain net fitness benefits by attracting conspecifics to feeding flocks. Species that benefit little from the presence of foraging companions should have a darker, more cryptic coloration to avoid attracting potential competitors. Flash marks – white patches on wings or tails, often hidden until individuals take flight – could also be more common in social species if such marks serve to increase flock cohesion. In a data set including pairs of closely related species with contrasting foraging sociality, social species possessed overall whiter plumage than non-social species but did not exhibit a higher frequency of flash marks. Several traits, such as habitat type, plumage dichromatism, male body mass, sexual size dimorphism, prey type, level of prey activity and social mating system, which could all influence plumage characteristics on their own, were not related to social foraging or to the expression of plumage traits. This study provides empirical support across a wide range of species for a relationship between social foraging and white plumage coloration in birds.

Keywords: birds, flash marks, pairwise comparative method, social foraging, white plumage.

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