Illusions Promote Mating Success in Great Bowerbirds

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Science  20 Jan 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6066, pp. 335-338
DOI: 10.1126/science.1212443

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Sexual selection studies normally compare signal strengths, but signal components and sensory processing may interact to create misleading or attention-capturing illusions. Visual illusions can be produced by altering object and scene geometry in ways that trick the viewer when seen from a particular direction. Male great bowerbirds actively maintain size-distance gradients of objects on their bower courts that create forced-perspective illusions for females viewing their displays from within the bower avenue. We show a significant relationship between mating success and the female’s view of the gradient; this view explains substantially more variance in mating success than the strength of the gradients. Illusions may be widespread in other animals because males of most species display to females with characteristic orientation and distance, providing excellent conditions for illusions.

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