Testosterone, Plumage Colouration and Extra-Pair Paternity in Male North-American Barn Swallows

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In most monogamous bird species, circulating testosterone concentration in males is elevated around the social female's fertile period. Variation in elevated testosterone concentrations among males may have a considerable impact on fitness. For example, testosterone implants enhance behaviours important for social and extra-pair mate choice. However, little is known about the relationship between natural male testosterone concentration and sexual selection. To investigate this relationship we measured testosterone concentration and sexual signals (ventral plumage colour and tail length), and determined within and extra-pair fertilization success in male North American barn swallows (Hirundo rustica erythrogaster). Dark rusty coloured males had higher testosterone concentrations than drab males. Extra-pair paternity was common (42% and 31% of young in 2009 and 2010, respectively), but neither within- nor extra-pair fertilization success was related to male testosterone concentration. Dark rusty males were less often cuckolded, but did not have higher extra-pair or total fertilization success than drab males. Tail length did not affect within- or extra-pair fertilization success. Our findings suggest that, in North American barn swallows, male testosterone concentration does not play a significant direct role in female mate choice and sexual selection. Possibly plumage colour co-varies with a male behavioural trait, such as aggressiveness, that reduces the chance of cuckoldry. This could also explain why dark males have higher testosterone concentrations than drab males.