Functional integration of multiple sexual ornaments: signal coherence and sexual selection

The sexual ornamentation of animals typically consists of multiple distinct traits. The classical research approach focuses on differences among these traits, but this approach may often be misleading because of correlations among distinct sexual traits of similar origins. There are many published studies on the correlation structures of sexual traits, but the way receivers take into account the components of an integrated, multi-component trait system remains mostly unknown. Here we propose a general analytical framework to assess the possible sexual selection consequences of within-individual coherence in the expression of multiple correlated sexual traits. We then apply this framework to a long-term mutual plumage coloration data set from a wild bird population. The results suggest that the coherence of component plumage color traits is not sexually selected. However, component trait coherence affects sexual selection on integrated plumage color. When assessing across-spectrum plumage reflectance, receivers choosing mates apparently disregard a component trait if it is inconsistent with the overall expression of other components. This indicates that separately examining and manipulating distinct sexual traits may often be misleading. Theoretical and empirical studies should further explore the effects of coherence on the ornament-preference co-evolution.

Hegyi, G., Laczi, M., Herényi, M., Markó, G., Nagy, G., Rosivall, B., Szász, E., Török, J. (2022). Functional integration of multiple sexual ornaments: signal coherence and sexual selection. American Naturalist, published online. (DOI: 10.1086/720620)