Sensitive periods during the development and expression of vertebrate sexual signals: A systematic review Public Deposited

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  • Many sexually selected traits exhibit phenotypic plasticity. Despite a growing appreciation for the ecological context in which sexual selection occurs, and for the role of plasticity in shaping traits associated with local adaptation and divergence, there is an important gap in knowledge about the onset and duration of plasticity in sexual trait expression. Integrating this temporal dimension of plasticity into models of sexual selection informs our understanding of the information conveyed by sexual traits and our predictions related to trait evolution, and is critical in this time of unprecedented and rapid environmental change. We conducted a systematic review of 869 studies to ask how trait modalities (e.g., visual and chemical) relate to the onset and duration of plasticity in vertebrate sexual signals. We show that this literature is dominated by studies of coloration in birds and fish, and most studies take place during the breeding season. Where possible, we integrate results across studies to link physiology of specific trait modalities with the life stage (e.g., juvenile, breeding, or nonbreeding) during which plasticity occurs in well-studied traits. Limitations of our review included a lack of replication in our dataset, which precluded formal analysis. We argue that the timing of trait plasticity, in addition to environmental context, is critical for determining whether and how various communication signals are associated with ecological context, because plasticity may be ongoing or occur at only one point in an individual's lifetime, and determining a fixed trajectory of trait expression. We advocate for careful consideration of the onset and duration of plasticity when analyzing how environmental variation affects sexual trait expression and associated evolutionary outcomes.

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  • 2021-10-13
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