The intensity of selection exerted on ornaments typically varies between environments. Reaction norms may help to identify the conditions under which ornamented individuals have a selective advantage over drab conspecifics. It has been recently hypothesized that in vertebrates eumelanin-based coloration reflects the ability to regulate the balance between energy intake and expenditure. We tested two predictions of this hypothesis in barn owl nestlings, namely that darker eumelanic individuals have a lower appetite and lose less weight when food-deprived. We found that individuals fed ad libitum during 24 h consumed less food when their plumage was marked with larger black spots. When food-deprived for 24 h nestlings displaying larger black spots lost less weight. Thus, in the barn owl the degree of eumelanin-based coloration reflects the ability to withstand periods of food depletion through lower appetite and resistance to food restriction. Eumelanic coloration may therefore be associated with adaptations to environments where the risk of food depletion is high.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Almasi B, Roulin A, Jenni-Eiermann S, Jenni L (2008) Parental investment and its sensitivity to corticosterone is linked to melanin-based coloration in barn owls. Horm Behav 54:217–223. doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2008.02.021
Almasi B, Roulin A, Jenni-Eiermann S, Breuner CW, Jenni L (2009) Regulation of free corticosterone and CGG capacity under different environmental conditions in altricial nestlings. Gen Comp Endocrinol 164:117–124. doi:10.1016/j.ygcen.2009.05.011
Almasi B, Jenni L, Jenni-Eiermann S, Roulin A (2010) Regulation of stress-response is heritable and functionally linked to melanin-based coloration. J Evol Biol 23:987–996. doi:10.1111/j.1420-9101.2010.01969.x
Andersson M (1994) Sexual selection. Princeton University Press, Princeton
Bussière LF, Hunt J, Stölting KN, Jennions MD, Brooks R (2008) Mate choice for genetic quality when environments vary: suggestions for empirical progress. Genetica 134:69–78. doi:10.1007/s10709-007-9220-z
Chakarov N, Boerner M, Krüger O (2008) Fitness in common buzzards at the cross-point of opposite melanin-parasite interactions. Funct Ecol 22:1062–1069. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2435.2008.01460.x
Ducrest A-L, Keller L, Roulin A (2008) Pleiotropy in the melanocortin system coloration and behavioural syndromes. Trends Ecol Evol 23:502–510. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2008.06.001
Durant JM, Handrich Y (1998) Growth and food requirement flexibility in captive chicks of the European barn owl (Tyto alba). J Zool 245:137–145. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.1998.tb00083.x
Fargallo JA, Laaksonen T, Korpimaki E, Wakamatsu K (2007) A melanin-based trait reflects environmental growth conditions of nestling male Eurasian kestrels. Evol Ecol 21:157–171. doi:10.1007/s10682-006-0020-1
Flatt T (2005) The evolutionary genetics of canalization. Q Rev Biol 80:287–316. doi:10.1086/432265
Gonzales G, Sorci G, de Lope F (1999) Seasonal variation in the relationship between cellular immune response and badge size in male house sparrows (Passer domesticus). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 46:117–122. doi:10.1007/s002650050600
Jenni-Eiermann S, Glaus E, Gruebler M, Schwabl H, Jenni L (2008) Glucocorticoid response to food availability in breeding barn swallows (Hirundo rustica). Gen Comp Endocrinol 155:558–565. doi:10.1016/j.ygcen.2007.08.011
Johnston RF, Janiga M (1995) Feral pigeon. Oxford University Press, Oxford
Mackintosh JA (2001) The antimicrobial properties of melanocytes melanosomes and melanin and the evolution of black skin. J Theor Biol 211:101–113. doi:10.1006/jtbi.2001.2331
McGraw KJ (2005) The antioxidant function of many animal pigments: are there consistent health benefits of sexually selected colorants? Anim Behav 69:757–764. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2004.06.022
Piault R, Gasparini J, Bize P, Jenni-Eiermann S, Roulin A (2009) Pheomelanin-based coloration and the ability to cope with variation in food supply and parasitism. Am Nat 174:548–556. doi:10.1086/605374
Røskaft E, Järvi T, Bakken M, Bech C, Reinertsen RE (1986) The relationship between social status and resting metabolic rate in great tits (Parus major) and pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca). Anim Behav 34:838–842. doi:10.1016/S0003-3472(86)80069-0
Roulin A (1999) Nonrandom pairing by male barn owls Tyto alba with respect to a female plumage trait. Behav Ecol 10:688–695. doi:10.1093/beheco/10.6.688
Roulin A (2001) Food supply differentially affects sibling negotiation and competition in the barn owl (Tyto alba). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 49:514–519. doi:10.1007/s002650100322
Roulin A (2004a) The evolution maintenance and adaptive function of genetic color polymorphism in birds. Biol Rev 79:815–848. doi:10.1017/S1464793104006487
Roulin A (2004b) Function of food stores in bird nests: observations and experiments in the barn owl Tyto alba. Ardea 92:69–78
Roulin A (2004c) Proximate basis of the covariation between a melanin-based female ornament and offspring quality. Oecologia 140:668–675. doi:10.1007/s00442-004-1636-x
Roulin A (2009) Covariation between eumelanic pigmentation and body mass only under specific conditions. Naturwissenschaften 96:375–382. doi:10.1007/s00114-008-0489-2
Roulin A, Dijkstra C (2003) Genetic, environmental components of variation in eumelanin and phaeomelanin sex-traits in the barn owl. Heredity 90:359–364. doi:10.1038/sj.hdy.6800260
Roulin A, Müller W, Sasvári L, Dijkstra C, Ducrest A-L, Riols C, Wink M, Lubjuhn T (2004) Extra-pair paternity testes size and testosterone level in relation to color polymorphism in the barn owl Tyto alba. J Avian Biol 35:492–500. doi:10.1111/j.0908-8857.2004.03294.x
Roulin A, Gasparini J, Bize P, Ritschard M, Richner H (2008) Melanin-based colorations signal strategies to cope with poor and rich environments. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 62:507–519. doi:10.1007/s00265-007-0475-2
Roulin A, Dreiss A, Fioravanti C, Bize P (2009) Vocal sib–sib interactions: how siblings adjust signaling level to each other. Anim Behav 77:717–725. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2008.12.004
Roulin A, Altwegg R, Jensen H, Steinsland I, Schaub M (2010) Sex-dependent selection on an autosomal melanic female ornament promotes the evolution of sex ratio bias. Ecol Lett 13:616–626. doi:10.1111/j.1461-0248.2010.01459.x
Senar JC, Polo V, Uribe F, Camerino M (2000) Status signalling metabolic rate and body mass in the siskin: the cost of being subordinate. Anim Behav 59:103–110. doi:10.1006/anbe.1999.1281
Van Buskirk J, Steiner UK (2009) The fitness costs of developmental canalization and plasticity. J Evol Biol 22:852–860. doi:10.1111/j.1420-9101.2009.01685.x
Van Doorn GS, Edelaar P, Weissing FJ (2009) On the origin of species by natural and sexual selection. Science 326:1704–1707. doi:10.1126/science.1181661
The Swiss National Science Foundation supported this study financially (Grant no. PPOOA-102913 to A. R.). The experiments were approved by the veterinary services of Canton de Vaud (licence no. 2109.0). We thank Oliver Krueger and an anonymous referee for helpful comments on an earlier version of the paper.
Communicated by Markku Orell.
About this article
Cite this article
Dreiss, A., Henry, I., Ruppli, C. et al. Darker eumelanic barn owls better withstand food depletion through resistance to food deprivation and lower appetite. Oecologia 164, 65–71 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-010-1680-7
- Food depletion
- Energy homeostasis