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Interspecific evidence that testis size responds to selection caused by sperm competition has been obtained from many taxa. However, little is known about the sources of intraspecific variation in testis size, although such variation may have functional significance. Variation in testis size and asymmetry was studied within and between eight geographically separated (and genetically differentiated) populations of greenfinches Carduelis chloris. The relationships between testis size and plumage brightness (degree of yellowness) and the prevalence of haematozoan infections were also investigated in three of these populations, as they related to the predictions of the immunocompetence handicap hypothesis, and Moller's hypothesis relating directional testis asymmetry to phenotypic quality. There were large differences between populations in testis size, with males from northern populations having larger testes than those from southern populations. Within populations, large testes were associated with larger body size and greater age. When the influence of these factors was removed statistically, males with large testes were more likely to be infected with haematozoan parasites, and had brighter yellow plumage. No evidence was found that directional asymmetry in testis size was related to either of these measures of phenotypic quality. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that males with large testes, while signalling higher phenotypic quality as revealed by increased plumage brightness, also pay a cost in terms of reduced immunocompetence, revealed by the increased probability of infection in these males. That these patterns were similar in three different populations adds further strength to these conclusions. Our results suggest that studying the sources of variation in testis size among individuals can reveal interesting processes in sexual selection.

Original publication




Journal article


Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

Publication Date





115 - 123