The reliability of achromatic displays is island-dependent in nocturnal Storm Petrels

Camilla Soravia, Felipe Aguado-Giménez, Jesús M. Avilés

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Nocturnal birds rely on achromatic visual signals to assess rivals and potential mates, but variation in the expression of these displays has been understudied. Here we use UV-visible reflectance spectrometry to study colour variation and the potential signalling function of the dark brown chest and white rump plumage – a colour pattern conspicuously exhibited during twilight courtship displays – in nocturnal Mediterranean Storm Petrels Hydrobates pelagicus melitensis from three islands with different exposures to predation and human disturbance. Human activity may increase perceived predation risk and thus affect activity budgets and the physiological stress response, with possible consequences on the relationship between individual body condition and plumage coloration. We found that chest and especially rump feathers reflected in the ultraviolet (UV) but there was no evidence of sexual dichromatism. However, we found support for a male-specific signalling role of plumage coloration. Indeed, chest yellow–red chroma and rump UV chroma were positively related to body condition in males, but only in the two islands representing the poorer environmental conditions. Therefore, environmental variability can potentially modify the reliability of achromatic displays, with possible consequences on sexual selection patterns in a nocturnal bird.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Aug 2019

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