Approximately 60% of the 45 species of terns (Sternae) have an unusual form of wing molt in which a variable number of inner primaries and outer secondaries are replaced two or three times in a single year—a process that has been called “repeated molt.” Although several hypotheses have been proposed for the maintenance of repeated molt, few data exist regarding potential selective forces that may have favored the evolution of this molt strategy, and there are no explanations for the high degree of interspecific variation in the extent of repeated molt. Preliminary investigations indicated that large terns tended to have less repeated molt than small terns and that the presence of repeated molt appeared to be associated with migratory behavior. We examined these initial findings by combining data from the literature, from examinations of museum specimens, and from a recent molecular phylogeny of the terns to perform phylogenetic-comparative tests. First, we used independent contrasts to verify that the association between large terns and less repeated molt was significant and not a result of shared ancestry. Second, we used tests for binary character association to evaluate the apparent link between repeated molt and migratory behavior. The results of these tests, along with reconstructions of ancestral states, led to a potential explanation for the origin of repeated molt, in which a tropical, sedentary ancestor gave rise to several lineages that spread to temperate areas and adopted a migratory life history. With this shift to a more seasonal regime came shortened breeding periods and perhaps more time for molt, which could have led to modifications of the ancestral molting strategy and the origin of repeated molt.
Efectos del Tamaño y del Comportamiento Migratorio en la Evolución de la Muda del Ala en los Gaviotines (Sternae): Un Estudio Filogenético Comparativo