Divergent patterns of age-dependence in ornamental and reproductive traits in the collared flycatcher.
Evans SR., Gustafsson L., Sheldon BC.
Sexual ornaments are predicted to honestly signal individual condition. We might therefore expect ornament expression to show a senescent decline, in parallel with late-life deterioration of other characters. Conversely, life-history theory predicts the reduced residual reproductive value of older individuals will favor increased investment in sexually attractive traits. Using a 25-year dataset of more than 5000 records of breeding collared flycatchers (Ficedula albicollis) of known age, we quantify cross-sectional patterns of age-dependence in ornamental plumage traits and report long-term declines in expression that mask highly significant positive age-dependency. We partition this population-level age-dependency into its between- and within-individual components and show expression of ornamental white plumage patches exhibits within-individual increases with age in both sexes, consistent with life-history theory. For males, ornament expression also covaries with life span, such that, within a cohort, ornamentation indicates survival. Finally, we compared longitudinal age-dependency of reproductive traits and ornamental traits in both sexes, to assess whether these two trait types exhibit similar age-dependency. These analyses revealed contrasting patterns: reproductive traits showed within-individual declines in late-life females consistent with senescence; ornamental traits showed the opposite pattern in both males and females. Hence, our results for both sexes suggest that age-dependent ornament expression is consistent with life-history models of optimal signaling and, unlike reproductive traits, proof against senescence.