Mutual Mate Choice for Colorful Traits in King Penguins

Paul M. Nolan, F. Stephen Dobson, Marion Nicolaus, Tim J. Karels, Kevin McGraw, Pierre Jouventin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


While studies of mate choice based on male color pattern are ubiquitous, studies of mate choice based on ornamental color traits in sexually monomorphic species are less common. We conducted manipulative field experiments on two color ornaments of king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus), the size of auricular patches of orange feathers and degree of UV reflectance from beak spots, to determine how the degree of ornamentation influenced pairing rate. In a reduction of auricular patch size, females paired significantly more quickly than males in both control and experimental samples. When this bias was taken into account statistically, pairing of individuals with reduced auricular patches was significantly delayed. We also reduced, but did not eliminate, UV reflectance from beak spots by applying a UV filter; no sex difference in pairing rate was evident in this experiment. Treated birds paired significantly more slowly than untreated control individuals, taking more than a week longer to pair on average than their unmanipulated counterparts, a result that was significant for males and approached significance for females. Our results may indicate mutual mate choice via UV reflectance of the beak spot. Given that this is a species where breeding is extremely slow and considerable investment by both males and females is required for successful reproduction, our results support the hypothesis that in such species, sexual selection might act on the same ornament in both sexes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)635-644
Number of pages10
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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