Convergent evolution of the tradeoff between egg size and tail fork depth in swallows and swifts

Hasegawa, Masaru; Arai, Emi

1 June 2018

Convergent evolution provides strong evidence of the power of natural selection, particularly for distantly related taxa. Swallows and swifts are such distantly related taxa; both are specialised to feed on flying insects and have similar morphological features, such as long wings. These birds also exhibit deeply forked tails in some species, but their function remains unclear; some have argued that fork tails have evolved due to sexual selection to attract mates, while others claim that viability selection for efficient foraging favours fork tails. A recent phylogenetic analysis found the negative relationship between female tail fork depth and egg size in swallows perhaps due to foraging costs of fork tails during egg formation, but its generality remains unclear. Here, we found that egg size significantly decreased with increasing female fork depth in swifts, which differ from swallows by foraging on weak-flying insects. Because female fork depth was not significantly related to clutch size, clutch size would not compensate for the relationship between egg size and fork depth. The current finding using swifts, together with the previous finding in swallows, provide strong support for an evolutionary tradeoff between the female plumage ornament and reproductive investment, as predicted by sexual selection theory.