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Keywords:

  • altitudinal range;
  • dichromatism;
  • ecological generalism;
  • niche width;
  • sexual selection;
  • song complexity;
  • trade-offs

Abstract

Sexual selection is thought to counteract natural selection on the grounds that secondary sexual traits are inherently costly and evolve at the expense of naturally selected traits. It is therefore commonly predicted that increased sexual selection is associated with decreased physiological tolerance or ecological plasticity. Using phylogenetic comparative methods, we test this prediction by exploring relationships between traits assumed to be sexually selected (plumage dichromatism and song structure) and traits assumed to be naturally selected (altitudinal range and habitat range) in a diverse family of tropical birds. Contrary to expectations, we find that taxa with higher levels of dichromatism, and lower song pitch, occupy a wider variety of habitats and elevations. In other words, indices of sexual selection are positively related to two standard measures of ecological generalism. One interpretation of this pattern is that sexual selection combines synergistically with natural selection, thereby increasing physiological tolerance or the propensity to adapt to novel environments. An alternative possibility is that ecological generalism increases population density, which in turn promotes sexual selection in the form of greater competition for mates. Overall, our results suggest that a synergism between natural selection and sexual selection may be widespread, but the processes underlying this pattern remain to be investigated.