Structure of social networks in a passerine bird: Consequences for sexual selection and the evolution of mating strategies

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172 Scopus citations


The social environment is a critical determinant of fitness and, in many taxa, is shaped by an individual's behavioral discrimination among social contexts, suggesting that animals can actively influence the selection they experience. In competition to attract females, males may modify sexual selection by choosing social environments in which they are more attractive relative to rivals. Across the population, such behaviors should influence sexual selection patterns by altering the relationship between male mating success and sexual ornament elaboration. Here we use network analysis to examine patterns of male social behavior in relation to plumage ornamentation and mating success in a free-living population of house finches. During the nonbreeding season, less elaborate males changed associations with distinct social groups more frequently, compared to more elaborate males that showed greater fidelity to a single social group. By the onset of pair formation, socially labile males effectively increased their attractiveness relative to other males in the same flocks. Consequently, males that frequently moved between social groups had greater pairing success than less social individuals with equivalent sexual ornamentation. We discuss these results in relation to conditional mating tactics and the role of social behavior in evolutionary change by sexual selection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E80-E89
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2010


  • Carpodacus mexicanus
  • Mate choice
  • Niche construction
  • Social structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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