Male traits expressed in females: direct or indirect sexual selection?

Katherine E. Muma, Patrick J. Weatherhead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colored epaulets in female red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) could be due either to direct sexual selection favoring the maintenance of this trait in females due to intrasexual competition for breeding opportunities, or to sexual selection favoring bright epaulets in males indirectly causing expression of the trait in females by genetic correlation. Older females tend to be brighter than younger females. Also, brighter females tend to breed earlier in the season than dull females. These patterns are consistent with both of the hypotheses. In a series of experiments in which males and females were presented with taxidermic mounts of dull and bright females, the plumage of these mounts had no influence on the response of either males or females. Also, the response of females was independent of their own plumage. The results of all of the experiments consistently supported the interpretation that male plumage characteristics expressed in female redwinged blackbirds have no functional value and are a consequence of genetic correlation with males. Since recent studies have also indicated that female aggression has no functional value, we speculate that this too could be due to genetic correlation with a trait favored in males.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-31
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1989
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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