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Female attractiveness affects paternal investment: experimental evidence for male differential allocation in blue tits

Katharina Mahr, Matteo Griggio*, Michela Granatiero and Herbert Hoi

Author Affiliations

Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology (KLIVV), Department of Integrative Biology and Evolution, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna,Savoyenstraße 1a, A-1160, Vienna, Austria

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Frontiers in Zoology 2012, 9:14  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-9-14

Published: 25 June 2012



The differential allocation hypothesis (DAH) predicts that individuals should adjust their parental investment to their current mate’s quality. Although in principle the DAH holds for both sexes, male adjustment of parental investment has only been tested in a few experimental studies, revealing contradictory results. We conducted a field experiment to test whether male blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) allocate their parental effort in relation to female ornamentation (ultraviolet colouration of the crown), as predicted by the DAH.


We reduced the UV reflectance in a sample of females and compared parental care by their mates with that of males paired to sham-manipulated control females. As predicted by the DAH our results demonstrate that males paired with UV-reduced females invested less in feeding effort but did not defend the chicks less than males paired with control females.


To our knowledge, this is one of the first studies providing support for male differential allocation in response to female ornamentation.

Female ornamentation; Male allocation; Parental care; Ultraviolet colouration