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Male tail streamer length does not predict apparent or genetic reproductive success in North American barn swallows Hirundo rustica erythrogaster


  • Colby R. Neuman,

  • Rebecca J. Safran,

  • Irby J. Lovette

C. R. Neuman, R. J. Safran (correspondence) and I. J. Lovette, Evolutionary Biology Program, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, 159 Sapsucker Woods Rd and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14850. – Present address of R.J. Safran: Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 106A Guyot Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544. Email: rsafran@Princeton.EDU


In the socially monogamous barn swallow, previous studies of individuals in the European subspecies Hirundo r. rustica have shown that a male's tail streamer length is under strong sexual selection and is positively associated with several measures of reproductive success, including a low probability of being cuckolded by other males. The prominence of these results has led to subsequent experimental and correlational investigations of individuals in the phenotypically divergent subspecies H. r. erythrogaster in North America, where it has been shown that male tail streamer length is not as strongly associated with reproductive success as in European populations. We examined relationships between male tail streamer length and patterns of: (1) social mate selection and reproductive success, and (2) extra-pair paternity in 265 progeny of 53 social fathers within a New York barn swallow population. Although tail streamers in this population were sexually dimorphic, male tail streamer length did not predict patterns of mate selection, seasonal reproductive success, or extra-pair paternity. Moreover, in contrast to the strong positive relationships between paternity and male streamer length in European populations, summarized in this paper, we found no positive relationship between a male's paternity of young in the nest he is attending and his tail streamer length in our study population in New York. Our results further corroborate recent suggestions that the function of sexual signals varies geographically in this species, although we await additional experimental analyses on streamer lengths to understand the maintenance of sexual dimorphism in this trait.