Avian color ornaments produced by different mechanisms (i.e., melanin, carotenoid, and structural colors) can communicate different sets of information due to differences in their condition or developmental constraints. Although this suggests that different color signals should be analyzed separately, few comparative studies have focused on specific types of coloration. In cardueline finches, interspecific variation in overall plumage brightness (which integrates all types of coloration) was previously shown to be affected by sexual selection and to covary with fecundity and parental care. Using a phylogenetic comparative approach, we extended this line of research and tested whether a specific component of plumage ornamentation, the melanin-based black frontal coloration of finches, showed a similar association with reproductive effort. We found that the extent of male melanization and melanin dichromatism increased in species with reduced clutch sizes, whereas female melanization was negatively correlated with incubation length. These results remained significant when we controlled for the effects of several ecological variables, and were also consistent between two alternative multivariate model-selection approaches. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that interspecific variation in melanization may be related to fecundity and parental care through trade-offs between investment in sexual signals and parental efforts.
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Vol. 107 • No. 4