Plumage polymorphism and fitness in Swainson's hawks


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Abstract

We examine the maintenance of a plumage polymorphism, variation in plumages among the same age and sex class within a population, in a population of Swainson's Hawks. We take advantage of 32 years of data to examine two prevalent hypotheses used to explain the persistence of morphs: apostatic selection and heterozygous advantage. We investigate differences in fitness among three morph classes of a melanistic trait in Swainson's Hawks: light (7% of the local breeding population), intermediate (57%) and dark (36%). Specifically, we examined morph differences in adult apparent survival, breeding success, annual number of fledglings produced, probability of offspring recruitment into the breeding population and lifetime reproductive success (LRS). If apostatic selection were a factor in maintaining morphs, we would expect that individuals with the least frequent morph would perform best in one or more of these fitness categories. Alternatively, if heterozygous advantage played a role in the maintenance of this polymorphism, we would expect heterozygotes (i.e. intermediate morphs) to have one or more increased rates in these categories. We found no difference in adult apparent survival between morph classes. Similarly, there were no differences in breeding success, nest productivity, LRS or probability of recruitment of offspring between parental morph. We conclude that neither apostatic selection nor heterozygous advantage appear to play a role in maintaining morphs in this population.

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