Are monomorphic species really sexually indistinguishable: no evidence in wild long-tailed finches (Poephila acuticauda)

Erica P. van Rooij*, Simon C. Griffith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Studies of sexual selection have focused mainly on dimorphic and/or polygynous species, where males, typically possess more exaggerated secondary sexual characters. However in many species, receiving far less attention, the expression of ornamental traits by females matches that in males. Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain sexual monomorphism, including mutual mate choice, genetic correlation, weak sexual selection and sexual indistinguishability. The sexual indistinguishability hypothesis suggests that sexual monomorphism is an adaption to avoid competition in monogamous flock-living species. Based on measurements of museum skins and domesticated birds in Europe, the Australian long-tailed finch was classified as a sexually monomorphic species, providing the best empirical support for the sexual indistinguishability hypothesis. Using both domestic and wild long-tailed finches, we have re-evaluated the extent to which the sexes are really indistinguishable. Morphological measurements of wing, tail, tail streamers, tarsus, bill and patch size, and colour spectrometric measurements of the yellow upper mandible and grey crown, were compared between the sexes. While the sexes are similar, males and females nonetheless differed in seven of ten traits in wild populations. In domestic populations, the sexes differed to a lesser extent but were still significantly different at three of ten traits, and discriminant analysis showed that 92% of wild individuals and 89% of domestic individuals could reliably be sexed based on just these morphological traits. Contrary to previous work, this study demonstrates that wild long-tailed finches are sexually dimorphic, and that the similarity between males and females in this species cannot be explained by the sexual indistinguishability hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)929-940
Number of pages12
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2010


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