Many passerine birds lay white eggs with reddish brown speckles produced by protoporphyrin pigment. However, the function of these spots is contested. Recently, the sexually selected eggshell coloration (SSEC) hypothesis proposed that eggshell color is a sexually selected signal through which a female advertises her quality (and hence the potential quality of her future young) to her male partner, thereby encouraging him to contribute more to breeding attempts. We performed a test of the SSEC hypothesis in a common passerine, the great tit Parus major. We used a double cross-fostering design to determine whether males change their provisioning behavior based on eggshell patterns they observe at the nest. We also tested the assumption that egg patterning reflects female and/or offspring quality. Because birds differ from humans in their color and pattern perception, we used digital photography and models of bird vision to quantify egg patterns objectively. Neither male provisioning nor chick growth was related to the pattern of eggs males observed during incubation. Although heavy females laid paler, less speckled eggs, these eggs did not produce chicks that grew faster. Therefore, we conclude that the SSEC hypothesis is an unlikely explanation for the evolution of egg speckling in great tits.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
- General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology