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Sexual selection and the evolution of female ornaments : an examination of female plumage colouration using comparative analyses and long-term data sets collected in blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) populations

Abstract : Ornamental traits are classically associated with males in animal species. The asymmetrical view is related to sex roles, in which males are competing (intra-sexual selection) to attract females which chose the best mate (intersexual selection). This idea was developed with the concept of anisogamy, the asymmetry in the production of male and female gametes. Females producing few but large gametes maximize their offspring survival rate by investing more in parental care; they become the limiting sex and chose males which are thus competing for access to reproduction. Then, any ornamental trait increasing pairing success would become advantageous for males, leading to more developed secondary sexual traits in this sex. If ornamental traits are more frequent in males, there are also many examples with females, especially in socially monogamous species with biparental care. Evolutionary biologists have only started recently to test processes explaining the outbreak and maintenance of female ornaments. Genetic correlation is an unquestionable process involved in this evolution, and social selection is also a major process. Several empirical studies have also related male mate choice to female ornaments and theoretical models have defined key parameters driving the evolution of male mate choice. Furthermore, phylogenetical studies retracing the evolution of ornaments have showed a high lability in female traits, with more frequent gains and losses of ornamental traits in females compared to males. In order to link sexual selection to the evolution of female ornaments, this thesis was based on these previous achievements to develop different approaches to better understand the role of sexual selection in the evolution and maintenance of female colouration. Comparative methods in songbirds tested the key parameters defined by theoretical models as driving the evolution of male mate choice. In line with theoretical models, results highlight the importance of male investment in parental care in the evolution of female plumage colouration. They also show how female initial investment in reproduction limits this evolution. Another thesis axis focused on colouration in a monogamous species, the Blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus, using a large dataset across 10 years in four populations and tested in particular (i) the strength of genetic correlation, (ii) relations between proxies of reproductive success and colouration and (iii) the existence of assortative mating in this species. The main results highlight a strong genetic correlation and a wide spatiotemporal variation and the use of meta-analyses revealed correlation between female colouration and proxies of reproductive success as well as a weak but positive pattern of assortative mating on the two measured patches (crown and chest). Both sides of the thesis represent new insights in favour of the evolution of female ornaments. They also highlight the complexity associated with their evolution and the importance of considering spatiotemporal variation for extensive understanding and generalisation.
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Amélie Fargevieille. Sexual selection and the evolution of female ornaments : an examination of female plumage colouration using comparative analyses and long-term data sets collected in blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) populations. Animal biology. Université Montpellier, 2016. English. ⟨NNT : 2016MONTT127⟩. ⟨tel-01647685⟩

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