HABITAT-SPECIFIC SENSORY-EXPLOITATIVE SIGNALS IN BIRDS: PROPENSITY OF DIPTERAN PREY TO CAUSE EVOLUTION OF PLUMAGE VARIATION IN FLUSH-PURSUIT INSECTIVORES

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Abstract

Abstract Sensory exploitation occurs when signals trigger behavioral reactions that diminish the receiver's fitness. Research in this area focuses on the match between the signal's form and the receiver's sensitivity, but the effect of habitat on interspecific sensory exploitation is rarely addressed. Myioborus redstarts use conspicuous wing and tail displays of contrasting black-and-white plumage patches to flush dipteran insects, which are then pursued and captured in flight. Previous studies have shown that by increasing the distance at which insects perform an escape response, conspicuous visual displays improve the birds' foraging performance. We tested the hypothesis that selection for a visual signal that maximizes prey escape distance under local habitat conditions can lead to the evolution of geographic variation in plumage pattern among Myioborus redstarts. Using models of foraging birds, we recorded the escape responses of Dipterous insects to a range of plumage patterns and background tones (from light to dark) to determine whether the plumage pattern that maximizes prey flushing is dependent upon that habitat (background) against which birds are viewed by their prey. Our results indicate that the effectiveness of a particular plumage pattern in flushing dipteran prey depends strongly on the background against which that plumage pattern is displayed, and darker habitat (background) conditions generally favor plumages with more extensive patches of white in the tail. However, the addition of white wing patches that imitate the plumage of the painted redstart (Myioborus pictus) generally increases insect escape responses but reduces the effect that tail pattern variation and background tone have on escape behavior. These experiments support the hypothesis that habitat-specific natural selection to enhance sensory exploitation of prey escape responses could produce geographic variation in plumage patterns of flush-pursuers.

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