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Influence of ambient light on the evolution of colour signals: comparative analysis of a Neotropical rainforest bird community

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E-mail: dgomez@mnhn.fr

Abstract

Rainforests offer two contrasted light environments: a bright canopy rich in blue and UV and a dark understorey, rich in green and orange. Therefore, natural selection for crypsis should favour dark brown signals in understorey and bright green signals in canopy, whereas sexual selection for conspicuousness should favour bright yellow-red signals in understorey and dark blue and UV signals in canopy. Using spectrometry and comparative analyses, we examined the relationship between ambient light and colour signals in a bird community of French Guiana. It appears that brightness and hue are mostly naturally selected, while UV content of plumage is more likely sexually selected. At each height, both sexes present similar coloration but males display more conspicuous sexually selected patterns than females. These results show that ambient light drives the evolution of colour signals at community scale, and should be considered when studying signalling in other communities and light-contrasted ecosystems.

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