Evol Ecol Res 8: 1325-1332 (2006)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Immunocompetence is signalled by ornamental colour in king penguins, Aptenodytes patagonicus

Paul M. Nolan,1* F. Stephen Dobson,1 Birgitta Dresp2 and Pierre Jouventin2

1Department of Biological Sciences, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849, USA and 2CNRS – CEFE, Equipe Ecologie Comportementale, F-34293 Montpellier, France

Address all correspondence to Paul M. Nolan, Department of Biology, The Citadel, 171 Moultrie Street, Charleston, SC 29409, USA.
e-mail: paul.nolan@citadel.edu


Hypothesis: Colourful ornaments reveal an individual’s immunocompetence, allowing birds to choose mates on the basis of these characters.

Organism: King penguins, Aptenodytes patagonicus.

Field site: Colony of approximately 16,000 breeding pairs on Possession Island in the Crozet Archipelago, southern Indian Ocean.

Methods: We measured foot-web swelling in males resulting from experimental injection of a novel mitogen (phytohaemagglutinin, PHA) and compared that measure of immunocompetence with colours of the beak spot and plumage.

Conclusions: Breast plumage colour is a reliable indicator of immunocompetence in king penguins. Breast plumage colour appears to rely on the presence of pterin pigments, and the fact that pterins are implicated in immune function may underlie the honesty of this signal.

Keywords: Aptenodytes patagonicus, condition-dependent signal, immunocompetence, PHA, phytohaemagglutinin, sexual selection.

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