Visual sensitivity, coloration and morphology of red-tailed tropicbirds Phaethon rubricauda breeding on the Kermadec Islands

S. M.H. Ismar, N. L. Chong, B. Igic, K. Baird, L. Ortiz-Catedral, A. E. Fidler, M. E. Hauber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Subtle sexual dimorphism and its perception in apparently monomorphic bird species warrant assessment of how birds identify the sex of conspecifics, particularly of prospective mates. Visual sensitivity and its potential co-variation with cryptic sexual dichromatism are still uninvestigated in most avian taxa. Using molecular sexing, reflectance spectrometry and perceptual modelling based on the sequencing of short wavelength visual pigments, we assessed the sex-specificity of coloration and colour perception in the red-tailed tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda. We also measured morphological dimorphism at a previously unstudied breeding locality for this species. Our data are in line with both physical and avian-perceived monochromatism with a potential indication of achromatic sex differences in plumage reflectance. The moderate extent of size dimorphism is consistent with reports from other Pacific breeding populations, and morphological measurements from live specimens in this study are in line with reports on museum specimens from the same sample location. Potential differences between individuals of the same sex in size and coloration warrant the assessment of sexual dimorphism in larger sample sizes of this species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-42
Number of pages14
JournalNew Zealand Journal of Zoology
Volume38
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2011
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Coloration
  • Kermadec islands
  • Morphology
  • Phaethon
  • SWS1
  • Seabird
  • Sexual dimorphism
  • Visual sensitivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology

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