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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Only females in poor condition display a clear preference and prefer males with an average badge

Matteo Griggio* and Herbert Hoi

Author Affiliations

Konrad Lorenz Institute for Ethology, Savoyenstrasse 1 a, A-1160, Vienna, Austria

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:261  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-261

Published: 27 August 2010



Female condition-dependent variation in mate preference may have important evolutionary implications, not only within the same population but also among populations. There are few experiments, however, on how condition and/or genotype influences female mate preferences. The black throat patch of the male house sparrow, Passer domesticus, is an intensively studied plumage trait. It is often referred to as a 'badge of status' and seems to be involved in female mate choice, but differences exist among populations. Between-population variation in mate preference may occur for condition-dependent mate preferences. We tested the hypothesis that female preference may vary with female quality (body condition). Therefore, we measured female preference for badge size using an aviary two-choice test in which females were presented with two males that had different sizes of badges (enlarged or averaged).


Overall we did not find a female preference for enlarged or average badges, but low-quality females spent more time near average badge males. Conversely, high-quality females did not show a clear preference.


Collectively, these results indicate that female preference varies with female quality. Differences in female condition are causes of within-population variation in mating preferences. To our knowledge, our results provide one of the first experimental evidences that variation in preference for a male ornament is associated with female condition. In our study, however, only females of low condition displayed a clear mate preference. Differences observed among populations could be partly explained by differences in female condition.