Pay Attention

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Science  23 Aug 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6148, pp. 821
DOI: 10.1126/science.341.6148.821-a

Males of many species display elaborate sexually selected traits, with the peacock's train as a classic case. We might presume that peahens would perceive a trait as we would, but the intricacy of the train suggests that its appeal could be considerably more complicated than it might seem at a glance. Yorzinski et al. take advantage of the development of gaze-tracking technology to look at the peacock train from the vantage point of the hen. Specifically, they trained females to wear a gaze-tracking device and then let them interact with males. They found that during the majority of the time the females were with the males, they weren't even looking at them, although males could attract their attention by shaking their wings. Further, when they did pay attention to the males, they looked not at the showy top of the fan, but at the feathers at the bottom and at the male's feet and legs. Though these results might at first suggest that the fan is perhaps a byproduct of selection for the lower feathers, subsequent experiments showed that the tops of the fans were in fact useful for attracting females at long distances. Overall, these results show that multicomponent male displays are the cumulative result of an attraction dance, and they suggest that to understand the evolution of such traits, we should study them through the eyes of the intended target.

J. Exp. Biol. 216, 3035 (2013).

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