Suburban immigrants to wildlands disrupt honest signaling in ultra-violet plumage

  • Angela Tringali, Reed Bowman
  • Avian Conservation and Ecology, January 2015, Resilience Alliance, Inc.
  • DOI: 10.5751/ace-00746-100109

Pretty little liars: dishonest signaling in a suburban bird population

What is it about?

In some birds, feather color is an important indicator of individual quality. Human provided foods, such as bird seed, can affect plumage color. We compared plumage color, and success at acquiring a mate and producing offspring between birds from a suburban neighborhood and intact habitat. We found that birds immigrating from the suburban neighborhood to intact habitat had more UV-shifted plumage and were more likely to find a mate, but less successful at producing offspring.

Why is it important?

The UV-shifted plumage of suburban birds is a dishonest signal of quality. Individuals from intact habitat fooled by the dishonest signal of suburban birds jeopardize their own ability to produce offspring by pairing with individuals whose actual quality is low. Immigration from suburbs to intact habitat may reduce reproductive rates, and is an example of urban effects spilling over into conservation areas.


Dr Angela Tringali
Archbold Biological Station

One of my favorite things about this paper is that we've documented something "invisible". While we can't see UV light, birds can, and a frequency of communication that we are not privy to exists. Looking for these "invisible" differences between our sites led us to the discovery of an evolutionary trap set by human development in close proximity to conservation areas.

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The following have contributed to this page: Dr Angela Tringali