Many birds use conspicuous plumage coloration to signal quality for sexual or social selection. However, it is still often unclear how intraspecific coloration and associated signaling vary spatially. Plumage coloration that is dependent on carotenoids may be ideal for studying spatial color variation because birds cannot naturally synthesize this pigment; therefore, bird coloration from carotenoids is at least partially contingent upon diet. As food availability often varies spatially, so might color and its signaling strength. While male coloration has received more research focus, less is known about female coloration and its relationships with social rank or sexual quality. To further improve our understanding of spatial variation in plumage coloration and correlations with individual quality, we compared Prothonotary Warblers breeding at 2 ecologically disparate sites separated by 1,300 km: in bottomland forests of Arkansas, USA, and the forests near the tidal freshwater James River in Virginia, USA. We assessed crown and breast plumage coloration for both sexes and compared several color metrics between sites. We then assessed surrogates of female quality (number of young fledged, number of eggs laid, provisioning rate, apparent annual survival, and nest depredation) and compared coloration-quality relationships between sites. We found that coloration of birds breeding in Arkansas was generally more elaborate than those breeding in Virginia. However, this was somewhat dependent on sex: females showed greater differences than males between sites. Additionally, color metrics of females breeding in Virginia showed stronger relationships with quality (all 5 quality metrics) than for birds breeding in Arkansas (only provisioning rate and nest depredation). Proximately, spatial variation in plumage coloration and the associated signaling may be explained by differences in diet between sites. Ultimately, spatial variation in intra- and intersexual selection pressures may explain how spatial variation in plumage signal strength evolved.
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Vol. 136 • No. 2