The evolution of courtship display repertoire size in the dabbling ducks (Anatini)

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Many animals possess multiple ornaments or behaviours that seem to have evolved via sexual selection. A complete understanding of sexual selection requires an explanation for such multiple traits. The dabbling ducks (Tribe: Anatini) exhibit considerable variation among species in the number of displays in the male courtship repertoire. I tested five hypotheses concerning the evolution of the variation in display repertoire size of dabbling ducks: (1) species recognition, (2) courtship habitat, (3) sexual selection intensity, (4) display media tradeoff and (5) time constraints on pair formation. I tested these hypotheses, using an explicit phylogenetic hypothesis developed from DNA sequences for the dabbling ducks, with two types of statistical comparative methods (discrete and continuous character). The variation observed in male courtship display repertoire size in dabbling ducks was consistent with the courtship habitat and sexual selection intensity hypotheses. Specifically, the size of the display repertoire was larger in species that exhibit courtship exclusively on water and larger in species with dimorphic plumage. These results suggest that ecological (habitat) as well as social (sexual selection) factors may be important in driving the evolution of displays in the dabbling ducks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)634-644
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2000


  • Anas
  • Animal communication
  • Sexual selection
  • Species recognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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