Sexually selected traits can signal an individual's ability to contribute offspring care. Differential allocation theory posits that when these same traits also influence brood value, it may be adaptive for partners to adjust care in response to their mates' traits. Evaluating the strength and direction of parental quality signalling and differential allocation is thus essential to understand selection on ornamental traits. We examined relationships between plumage colour and parental care in tree swallows, Tachycineta bicolor, a mutually ornamented species in which plumage colour is related to male and female reproductive performance. Using a model of avian vision to quantify parental colour trait variation, we found that male and female tree swallows that were paired to partners with greener, more saturated plumage colour fed offspring at higher rates. Among tree swallow pairs where both partners were in their second year of breeding or older, individuals with greener, more saturated plumage colour also fed their offspring at higher rates. We show that offspring of males that provisioned more often tended to achieve greater body mass independent of the colour traits of their parents. Our results suggest a role for partner parental care in selection on female ornamentation in this species.

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Animal Behaviour

Dakin, R, Lendvai, Á.Z. (Z.), Ouyang, J.Q. (J. Q.), Moore, I.T. (I. T.), & Bonier, F. (F.). (2016). Plumage colour is associated with partner parental care in mutually ornamented tree swallows. Animal Behaviour, 111, 111–118. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2015.10.006