Melanin-Specific Life-History Strategies

Guillaume Emaresi, Pierre Bize, Res Altwegg, Isabelle Henry, Valentijn van den Brink, Julien Gasparini, Alexandre Roulin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


The maintenance of genetic variation is a long-standing issue because the adaptive value of life-history strategies associated with each genetic variant is usually unknown. However, evidence for the coexistence of alternative evolutionary fixed strategies at the population level remains scarce. Because in the tawny owl (Strix aluco) heritable melanin-based coloration shows different physiological and behavioral norms of reaction, we investigated whether coloration is associated with investment in maintenance and reproduction. Light melanic owls had lower adult survival compared to dark melanic conspecifics, and color variation was related to the trade-off between offspring number and quality. When we experimentally enlarged brood size, light melanic males produced more fledglings but in poorer condition, and they were less often recruited in the local breeding population than those of darker melanic conspecifics. Our results also suggest that dark melanic males allocate a constant effort to raise their brood independently of environmental conditions, whereas lighter melanic males finely adjust reproductive effort in relation to changes in environmental conditions. Color traits can therefore be associated with life-history strategies, and stochastic environmental perturbation can temporarily favor one phenotype over others. The existence of fixed strategies implies that some phenotypes can sometimes display a "maladapted" strategy. Long-term population monitoring is therefore vital for a full understanding of how different genotypes deal with trade-offs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-280
Number of pages12
JournalThe American Naturalist
Issue number2
Early online date10 Dec 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2014


  • life-history strategies
  • melanin
  • color polymorphism
  • genetic variation
  • melanin-based coloration
  • owl strix-aluco
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • tawny owl
  • reproductive strategies
  • trade-offs
  • animal personalities
  • genetic-polymorphism
  • behavioral syndromes
  • melanocortin system


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