Although plumage displays often reliably signal individual condition and age, how these sexually selected traits vary with geographic region is not well understood. Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) populations are fragmented and declining precipitously in the Appalachian Mountains. Limited research suggests that Golden-winged Warbler facial plumage ornaments may be under sexual selection; black throat (melanin-based) coloration is associated with mate acquisition while yellow crown (carotenoid-based) coloration is associated with aggression and habitat quality. We tested whether multiple plumage traits (crown, throat, and tail coloration) (1) varied across the Appalachian breeding range, (2) varied with age class or body condition, and (3) covaried with each other and whether the covariance differed with geographic region. We found that crown and throat coloration followed a latitudinal gradient, with the more southern birds showing lower ornamentation. Moreover, after-second-year birds had tails with a greater extent of white than second-year, suggesting tail color may reliably signal age that conspecifics could assess. Males with more-ornamented crown color had more-ornamented throat coloration, suggesting that this species demonstrates some potential for both redundant (facial coloration) and independent (tail white) signaling. We found no evidence, however, that covariation between traits differed across the breeding range or that the plumage traits varied with body condition. Additional research investigating the signaling function of multiple plumage ornaments in Golden-winged Warblers across their breeding range could shed light on habitat preferences and communication. Received 28 October 2016. Accepted 4 January 2018.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research would not have been possible without the dedication of our field crews: C.K. Avery, C. Campbell, A.S. Dawson, C. Fiss, B. Eddinger, N. Glover, E.H. Heetderks, J. Kreiser, S. Malinich, J. Saborse, B.P. Taylor, J.L. Tucker, and L.E. Williams. We thank Mary Bomberger Brown and 2 anonymous referees for comments on earlier versions of our manuscript. Finally, we are grateful for the following individuals and agencies for their support and land access: B. Cochran, S. Wright, J. Rice, L. Campbell, L. Moretz, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (J. Leutze, C. Coxen, M. Crockett), NC Wildlife Resource Commission, TN Natural Heritage Program (L. Huff), Pisgah National Forest, Elk Knob State Park, Grandfather Mountain State Park, and Monongahela National Forest. Funding was provided by Appalachian State University through the Office of Student Research, Audubon North Carolina, as well as the United States Natural Resources Conservation Service through the Conservation Effects Assessment Project. Funders of our project had no influence on the content of the submitted manuscript and do not require approval of the final manuscript to be published.
© 2018 Wilson Ornithological Society. All rights reserved.
- Animal signals
- Geographic variation
- Melanin ornamentation
- Structural coloration
- Vermivora chrysoptera
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology