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Keywords:

  • age;
  • condition-dependence;
  • evolution;
  • ornament;
  • plasticity;
  • sexual selection

Abstract

The expression of sexual signals is often phenotypically plastic and also evolves rapidly. Few studies have considered the possibility that proximate determination – the pathway between genes and trait expression – may also be subject to both phenotypic plasticity and evolutionary change. We examined long-term patterns in size, condition- and age-dependence, repeatability and heritability of forehead patch size, a sexually selected plumage trait in male collared flycatchers. We also estimated survival and sexual selection on the phenotypic value of the trait. Forehead patch size linearly declined during the 15 years, probably due to the significantly negative survival selection. In addition, the expression of genetic variation for the ornament apparently underwent an age-limited change, which implies a change in the information content of the signal to receivers. The persistent lack of condition-dependence makes phenotypic plasticity an unlikely explanation to our results. This raises the possibility of a microevolutionary change of both expression and proximate determination during the study period.