Differential fitness effects of moonlight on plumage colour morphs in barn owls
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The Moon cycle exposes nocturnal life to variation in environmental light. However, whether moonlight shapes the fitness of nocturnal species with distinct colour variants remains unknown. Combining data from long-term monitoring, high-resolution global positioning system tracking and experiments using prey, we show that barn owls (Tyto alba) with distinct plumage colourations are differently affected by moonlight. The reddest owls are less successful at hunting and providing food to their offspring during moonlit nights, which associates with lower body mass and lower survival of the youngest nestlings and with female mates starting to lay eggs at low moonlight levels. Although moonlight should make white owls more conspicuous to prey, it either positively affects or does not affect the hunting and fitness of the whitest owls. We experimentally show that, under full-moon conditions, white plumage triggers longer freezing times in prey, which should facilitate prey catchability. We propose that the barn owl’s white plumage, a rare trait among nocturnal predators, exploits the known aversion of rodents to bright light, explaining why, counterintuitively, moonlight has a lesser impact on the whitest owls. Our study provides evidence for the long-suspected influence of the Moon on the evolution of colouration in nocturnal species, highlighting the importance of colour in nocturnal ecosystems.
|Enheter & grupper|
Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ) – OBLIGATORISK
|Tidskrift||Nature Ecology and Evolution|
|Status||Published - 2019|
|Peer review utförd||Ja|