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In many avian species, both females and males display colorful feather ornaments that in males are known to often signal individual quality and serve as the basis for mate choice. We do not know however, if the same applies for female birds. In this study, we investigated whether carotenoid content in female Prothonotary Warblers (Prothonotaria Citrea) feathers, a measure of feather quality, was correlated with annual reproductive success. Feathers from 130 female individuals over a period of four breeding seasons were collected and their reflectance was measured, along with data on annual reproductive success. We found a significant positive relationship between carotenoid content and number of young fledged, after accounting for the effect of nest initiation date, which is known to significantly influence annual reproductive success. We found that earlier and older females tend to fledge more young, but that all early arriving females are not the same. Among early breeders, the ones that go on to produce the greatest number of young have higher carotenoid content in their feathers. This same relationship was not found in later breeding females. This could indicate that males use female plumage as a signal to select higher quality females during the early portion of the breeding season when selection pressure is highest to choose a high quality mate.

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Subject Major(s)

Environmental Studies

Current Academic Year


Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Lesley Bulluck


Virginia Commonwealth University. Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program

Is Part Of

VCU Undergraduate Research Posters


© The Author(s)

Feather Reflectance Predicts Reproductive Success in Female Prothonotary Warblers