Red dominates black: Agonistic signalling among head morphs in the colour polymorphic Gouldian finch

Sarah R. Pryke*, Simon C. Griffith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

159 Citations (Scopus)


Recent sexual selection studies on the evolution of bird colouration have mainly focused on signals with a high level of condition-dependent variation, with much less attention given to colour traits whose expression is genetically controlled. Here, we experimentally tested the relative importance of a genetic colour polymorphism in determining male dominance in the Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae), a species displaying three completely discrete but naturally co-occurring genetically inherited phenotypes; yellow-, red- (carotenoid) and black-headed (melanin) morphs. First, in staged dominance contests between unfamiliar birds of different head morphs, red-headed males dominated black-headed males, both of which dominated the yellow-headed birds. Second, within morphs, the intensity and size of the strongly ultraviolet-blue collar determined the outcome of these contests, and among the red-headed males, redder males dominated less chromatic birds. Lastly, when the dominance signal of red-headed birds was experimentally destabilized (i.e. blackened or reddened), naturally red-headed morphs continued to dominate both the black-and yellow-headed morphs. Together, these results suggest that intrinsic dominance-related behavioural differences between the three colour morphs, which are likely to influence the relative fitness of each morph, contribute to the complex selective patterns maintaining these three discrete phenotypes in relatively stable frequencies in wild populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)949-957
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1589
Publication statusPublished - 22 Apr 2006
Externally publishedYes


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