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As complex traits evolve, each component of the trait may be under different selection pressures and could respond independently to distinct evolutionary forces. We used comparative methods to examine patterns of evolution in multiple components of a complex courtship signal in darters, specifically addressing the question of how nuptial coloration evolves across different areas of the body. Using spectral reflectance, we defined 4 broad color classes present on the body and fins of 17 species of freshwater fishes (genus Etheostoma) and quantified differences in hue within each color class. Ancestral state reconstruction suggests that most color traits were expressed in the most recent common ancestor of sampled species and that differences among species are mostly due to losses in coloration. The evolutionary lability of coloration varied across body regions; we found significant phylogenetic signal for orange color on the body but not for most colors on fins. Finally, patterns of color evolution and hue of the colors were correlated among the two dorsal fins and between the anterior dorsal and anal fins, but not between any of the fins and the body. The observed patterns support the hypothesis that different components of complex signals may be subject to distinct evolutionary pressures, and suggests that the combination of behavioral displays and morphology in communication may have a strong influence on patterns of signal evolution [Current Zoology 57 (2): 125–139, 2011].


GUMM, J. M., & MENDELSON, T. C. (2011). The evolution of multi-component visual signals in darters (genus Etheostoma). Current Zoology,57(2), 125-139.

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