Correlated changes in male plumage coloration and female mate choice in cardueline finches

Geoffrey E. Hill, Kevin J. Mcgraw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


The coevolution of extravagant male traits and female mate preferences is a central tenet of sexual selection theory. In lineages in which males have developed more elaborate sexual characters, females favour the most extreme expression of the trait. In some taxa, however, ornamental displays have evolved from more to less exaggerated states. Under these circumstances, it is unclear whether females show preferences for an ancestral male condition or for the current, less elaborate display. Here, we tested female mate preferences relative to male ornamental coloration in two species of cardueline finch (the American goldfinch, Carduelis tristis, and pine siskin, Carduelis pinus) that have evolved less elaborate carotenoid-based colour displays from more elaborately coloured ancestral states. We presented females of each species with a choice of males having either large patches of red colour (the elaborate, ancestral condition) or with species-typical patches of yellow colour (the less elaborate, derived state). Female goldfinches and siskins showed consistent preferences for the natural colour displays of males, and not for the more elaborate, ancestral colour pattern. Previous research on another cardueline finch taxon (a subspecies of the house finch, Carpodacus mexicanus griscomi), however, showed that females prefer more elaborate, ancestral coloration to the current form of reduced colour expression. The lack of congruence between male trait expression and female trait preference in the lineage with the most recently derived reduction in trait expression suggests that there may be evolutionary lags in the correspondence between male traits and female preferences. A shift in the expression of male coloration appears to be the first step towards the evolution of reduced colour displays in these finches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-35
Number of pages9
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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