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Negative Assortative Mating in Prothonotary Warblers: Crown Feathers Reveal Mating Preference

Jordan Rasure, Depts. of Biology, Spanish, & Chemistry and Elsa Chen, Dept. of Biology, with Dr. Lesley Bulluck, Center for Environmental Studies

While male ornamentation has been the subject of many avian studies, there is a dearth of studies on their female equivalents. Several studies have evaluated male ornamentation as an indication of individual quality and a driving factor in mate choice. Spectral analysis of feathers has revealed that color intensity can be interpreted as an indicator of both aggression and parental quality. We evaluated the correlation between male and female ornamentation in prothonotary warblers (Protonotaria citrea) to determine whether individuals select mates that share their same plumage characteristics. We collected 46 samples of crown and breast feathers from 46 individuals (23 breeding pairs) across two study sites in eastern Virginia, USA. From these samples, we measured reflectance and calculated three color metrics: violet-blue chroma (an index of carotenoid content), ultraviolet chroma, and yellow intensity. After ruling out age as a confounding variable, we found a significant negative correlation between the yellow intensity of female crown feathers and the yellow intensity of her respective male’s crown feathers. This finding suggests a pattern of non-assortative mating in prothonotary warblers, which may be explained by a trade-off between parental quality and aggression. Further studies are needed to expand the sample size of breeding pairs and to evaluate the role of ornamentation in parental care and aggression.

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Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Lesley Bulluck, Ph.D.


Virginia Commonwealth University. Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program

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VCU Undergraduate Research Posters


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Negative Assortative Mating in Prothonotary Warblers: Crown Feathers Reveal Mating Preference