Costs of a sexual ornament in its early evolutionary form and the relationship between these costs and individual condition may be an important influence in the likelihood of possible evolutionary mechanisms involved in the evolution of this ornament. We reconstructed the tail shape in hypothetical ancestors of recent hirundines (Aves: Hirundinidae), from which the elongation of tail feathers under sexual selection might have begun. By elongating the tail in sand martins (Riparia riparia, Hirundinidae), we simulated the early evolution of a long forked tail—the typical ornament of male hirundines. Birds with initial ornament captured smaller insects than controls, which suggests that this ornament imposed a cost in terms of impaired foraging. Furthermore, birds with naturally longer tails were better able to cope with initial ornament than naturally short-tailed birds. If length of tail in sand martins indicates the quality of individuals, our results suggest higher costs of this initial ornament for poorer than for higher quality individuals. We discuss the potential role of the handicap principle and other mechanisms in early evolution of a tail ornament.
Corresponding Editor: E. Martins