Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



Published in Evolution 70:9 (September 2016), pp 2074–2084. DOI 10.1111/evo.13014


Copyright © 2016 by the authors. Evolution © 2016 The Society for the Study of Evolution; published by John Wiley & Sons. Used by permission.


Previous studies have shown that sexual signals can rapidly diverge among closely related species. However, we lack experimental studies to demonstrate that differences in trait-associated reproductive performance maintain sexual trait differences between closely related populations, in support for a role of sexual selection in speciation. Populations of Northern Hemisphere distributed barn swallows Hirundo rustica are closely related, yet differ in two plumage-based traits: ventral color and length of the outermost tail feathers (streamers). Here we provide experimental evidence that manipulations of these traits result in different reproductive consequences in two subspecies of barn swallow: (H. r. erythrogaster in North America and H. r. transitiva in the East Mediterranean). Experimental results in Colorado, USA, demonstrate that males with (1) darkened ventral coloration and (2) shortened streamers gained paternity between two successive reproductive bouts. In contrast, exaggeration of both traits improved reproductive performance within H. r. transitiva in Israel: males with a combination treatment of darkened ventral coloration and elongated streamers gained paternity between two successive reproductive bouts. Collectively, these experimental results fill an important gap in our understanding for how divergent sexual selection maintains phenotype differentiation in closely related populations, an important aspect of the speciation process.

Includes supplementary materials.