Carotenoid status signaling in captive and wild red-collared widowbirds: Independent effects of badge size and color

Sarah R. Pryke*, Staffan Andersson, Michael J. Lawes, Steven E. Piper

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    136 Citations (Scopus)


    Carotenoid-based plumage ornaments are typically considered to be sexually selected traits, functioning as honest condition-dependent signals of phenotypic quality, but few studies have addressed the function of carotenoid color variation in male contest competition. Using two experiments, we investigated the status signaling function of the variable (ranging from yellow to red) carotenoid throat patch (collar) in the polygynous, sexually dimorphic red-collared widowbird (Euplectes ardens). First, we tested if the red collar functions as a dominance signal by painting spectrometrically controlled collar patches onto the brown plumage of nonbreeding males and staging dyadic male contests over food resources. Red-collared males dominated orange males, which in turn dominated the control brown and novel blue collars. Red dominance persisted when the collar manipulations were reversed within dyads and also when tested against testosterone implanted males. In the second experiment the collar size and color of breeding males were manipulated in the field before and after territories were established. All males with enlarged red and most with enlarged orange or reduced red collars obtained territories, whereas most males with reduced orange and all with blackened (removed) collars failed to establish or retain territories. In addition, among the territorial males, those with reduced signals defended smaller territories, received more intrusions, and spent more time in aggressive interactions. Redness and, to a lesser extent, size of the carotenoid ornament both seem to independently indicate male dominance status or fighting ability in male contest competition.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)622-631
    Number of pages10
    JournalBehavioral Ecology
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2002


    • Carotenoids
    • Dominance
    • Euplectes ardens
    • Male-male competition
    • Plumage coloration
    • Status signaling
    • Widowbirds


    Dive into the research topics of 'Carotenoid status signaling in captive and wild red-collared widowbirds: Independent effects of badge size and color'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this