Great spotted woodpeckers Dendrocopos major exert multiple forms of phenotypic selection on Scots pine Pinus sylvestris


  • Łukasz Myczko,

  • Craig W. Benkman

Ł. Myczko, Inst. of Zoology, Poznań Univ. of Life Sciences, Wojska Polskiego 71C, PL-60-625 Poznań, Poland. –C. W. Benkman (, Dept of Zoology and Physiology, Univ. of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82071, USA.


Relatively few animal species extract seeds from closed conifer cones because of the forces required to spread apart or penetrate the woody scales. Those species that forage on seeds in closed cones tend to forage selectively, and therefore act as selective agents on cone structure. However, little is known about the foraging preferences and thus phenotypic selection that is exerted on conifers by many species that forage extensively on seeds in closed cones, including especially woodpeckers (Picidae). Great spotted woodpeckers Dendrocopos major are one of the main predators of seeds in closed cones of Scots pine Pinus sylvestris in central and eastern Europe. To estimate the cone preferences of these woodpeckers foraging on Scots pine, we contrasted traits of cones that were and were not foraged on by woodpeckers. Woodpeckers preferred to forage on shorter cones when scales were thin (smaller apophyses) but preferred cones of intermediate length when scales were thicker, providing evidence for correlational selection. The preference for intermediate-sized cones indicates that woodpeckers exert disruptive selection on cone length when cones have thicker scales, but the overall selection on cone length across all scale types indicates directional favoring the evolution of longer cones. Woodpeckers avoided cones with thicker scales, which would lead to directional selection favoring the evolution of thicker scales. Preferences for intermediate-sized cones have been found in tree squirrels and directional selection favoring the evolution of cones with thicker scales may be a common outcome of the foraging behavior of birds.