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An avian equivalent of make-up?

Authors

  • Piersma,

    1. Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), PO Box 59, 1790 AB Den Burg, Texel, The Netherlands, and Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies (CEES), University of Groningen, PO Box 14, 9750 AA Haren, The Netherlands,
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  • Dekker,

    1. Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), PO Box 59, 1790 AB Den Burg, Texel, The Netherlands,
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  • Damsté

    1. Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), PO Box 59, 1790 AB Den Burg, Texel, The Netherlands
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Theunis Piersma E-mail: theunis@nioz.nl

Abstract

We report that a long-distance migrating shorebird, the red knot, makes a complete switch from commonly occurring monoester preen waxes to a much rarer class of higher-molecular-weight diester waxes at the time of take-off to the high arctic breeding grounds. The cold arctic climate would have required a lowering of wax-viscosity, and thus, a shift in the reverse direction. We propose that a sexually selected need for a brilliant plumage has lead to this conter-intuitive temporary shift from monoesters to diester waxes. The difficulty of application of the diester preen waxes under cold conditions would ensure the reliability of the quality-signalling function of this most probably sexually selected trait.

Ancillary