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Female Barn Swallows Gain Indirect but not Direct Benefits through Social Mate Choice


Wataru Kojima, Graduate School of Agriculture and Life Sciences, The University of Tokyo, Tokyo 113-8657, Japan. E-mail:


Female mate choice is responsible for the evolution of male secondary sexual ornaments. If male ornamental traits reflect indirect, genetic benefits and/or direct, material benefits to females, choosy females may benefit from their choice, indirectly and/or directly. We examined a breeding population of Japanese barn swallows Hirundo rustica gutturalis to determine whether male tail streamer length reflected indirect and/or direct benefits to females. There was no significant positive relationship between male streamer length and the number of extra-pair young (EPY) sired, suggesting that male tail streamers are not a signal of indirect benefits (i.e. good genes theory). In addition, we found no evidence that males with longer streamers fed their offspring more frequently or sired more within-pair young (WPY). The result indicates that male streamer length probably does not act as a signal of direct benefits. Our finding that the length of tail streamers in Japanese barn swallows plays no role in sexual selection is not consistent with studies on European subspecies, but is consistent with studies on North American subspecies where sexual selection on tail streamer is weak. The present study supports the recent suggestion that the pattern of sexual selection on tail streamer length in barn swallows varies geographically. Instead of tail length, males in better condition sired more EPY and WPY. Males in better condition, however, did not feed their nestling more frequently. These results indicate that females gain indirect benefits but not direct benefits, in terms of feeding of young, on choosing social mates.