The hawk-dove game in a sexually reproducing species explains a colourful polymorphism of an endangered bird

Hanna Kokko, Simon C. Griffith, Sarah R. Pryke

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    24 Citations (Scopus)


    The hawk–dove game famously introduced strategic game theory thinking into biology and forms the basis of arguments for limited aggression in animal populations. However, aggressive ‘hawks’ and peaceful ‘doves’, with strategies inherited in a discrete manner, have never been documented in a real animal population. Thus, the applicability of game-theoretic arguments to real populations might be contested. Here, we show that the head-colour polymorphismof red and black Gouldian finches (Erythrura gouldiae) provides a real-life example. The aggressive red morph is behaviourally dominant and successfully invades black populations, but when red ‘hawks’ become too common, their fitness is severely compromised (via decreased parental ability). We also investigate the effects of real-life deviations, particularly sexual reproduction, from the simple original game, which assumed asexual reproduction. A protected polymorphism requires mate choice to be sufficiently assortative. Assortative mating is adaptive for individuals because of genetic incompatibilities affecting hybrid offspring fitness, but by allowing red ‘hawks’ to persist, it also leads to significantly reduced population sizes. Because reductions in male contributions to parental care are generally known to lead to lower population productivity in birds, we expect zerosum competition to often have wide ranging population consequences.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number20141794
    Pages (from-to)1-6
    Number of pages6
    JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
    Issue number1793
    Publication statusPublished - 22 Oct 2014


    • Aggression
    • Assortative mating
    • Hawk–dove game
    • Polymorphism
    • Population consequences of conflict
    • Population dynamics


    Dive into the research topics of 'The hawk-dove game in a sexually reproducing species explains a colourful polymorphism of an endangered bird'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this