Complexity and integration in sexual ornamentation: An example with carotenoid and melanin plumage pigmentation

A. V. Badyaev, R. L. Young

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Sexual ornaments often consist of several components produced by distinct developmental processes. The complexity of sexual ornaments might be favoured by mate choice of individual components in different environments which ultimately results in weak interrelationships (integration) among the developmental processes that produce these components. At the same time, sexual selection for greater exaggeration of individual components favours their stronger co-dependence on organismal resources. This should ultimately produce stronger condition-mediated integration among ornaments' components in individuals with the most exaggerated ornamentation. Here we distinguish between these two sources of integration by examining the relationship between integration and elaboration of sexual ornamentation in three bird species: two with carotenoid-based sexual ornamentation (the house finch, Carpodacus mexicanus and common redpoll, Carduelis flammea) and a species with melanin-based sexual ornamentation (house sparrow, Passer domesticus). We found that integration of components varied with elaboration of carotenoid-based ornamentation but not of melanin ornamentation. In the house finches, integration was the highest in individuals with small ornaments and decreased with ornament elaboration whereas the pattern was the opposite in common redpolls. These results suggest that in these species integration and complexity of carotenoid-based ornamental components are due to shared condition-dependence of distinct developmental pathways, whereas integration and complexity of the melanin ornamentation is due to organismal integration of developmental pathways and is largely condition-and environment-invariant. Thus, functionally, ornamentation of the house sparrows can be considered a single trait, whereas complexity of the house finch and redpoll ornamentation varies with ornament elaboration and individual condition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1317-1327
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2004


  • Carotenoids
  • Coloration
  • Developmental and functional integration
  • Melanins
  • Modularity
  • Sexual ornaments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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