Aggressive behaviour affects selection on morphology by influencing settlement patterns in a passerine bird

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70 Scopus citations


The importance of behaviours as instigators or inhibitors of evolutionary change remains largely unresolved and this is in part because there are very few empirical examples of how behaviours affect evolutionary processes. By determining the environment of breeding, aggressive interactions over territories have the potential to strongly impact selection pressures experienced by individuals. Western bluebirds (Sialia mexicana) provide a unique opportunity to investigate the evolutionary importance of aggression, since their highly variable breeding habitat favours distinct foraging techniques and they also compete aggressively for nest boxes, a resource that is easy to manipulate. Here, I show experimentally that more aggressive males compete more effectively for territories with a high density of nest boxes and, as a consequence, aggressive and non-aggressive males are sorted into distinct breeding habitats that differ in the strength of selection on morphological traits. Specifically, males with longer tails and tarsi were favoured in open habitats where high agility is required to forage efficiently, whereas in forested habitats, where agility is less important, selection was weak. These results show that aggression can affect selection on a local scale by determining individual settlement patterns. More generally, because territorial interactions are important across a wide variety of taxa, these results suggest that aggressive behaviour has the potential to impact the evolutionary trajectory of many animal populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1789-1795
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1595
StatePublished - 2006


  • Aggression
  • Evolutionary change
  • Sialia mexicana
  • Territoriality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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