Predators are supposed to exert strong selection pressures on their prey, especially when phenotypic traits such as secondary sexual characters promote mating success at the expense of costs in terms of natural selection. Signaling theory predicts that individuals of superior phenotypic quality will enjoy an advantage in term of mating success, but also in term of natural selection, if such individuals are in prime condition both before and after development of exaggerated secondary sexual characters. We tested this prediction in the Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica being preyed upon by the Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus, using extensive samples of feathers from prey and non-prey. We measured tail length and coloration of outermost tail feathers in the black area of the proximal and distal part of tail feathers, but also the white spot of the tail feathers. Prey had significantly less dark distal, but not proximal parts of their tails, while there was no difference in coloration of the white spot between prey and non-prey. Prey had significantly paler tail feathers than non-prey, especially among long-tailed individuals. These results suggest that Barn Swallows with long tails that fail to deposit large amounts of melanin in their tail feathers run an elevated risk of predation.
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Vol. 49 • No. 1