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Long-Term Decrease in Coloration: A Consequence of Climate Change?

Climate change has been shown to affect fitness-related traits in a wide range of taxa; for instance, warming leads to phenological advancements in many plant and animal species. The influence of climate change on social and secondary sexual traits, which are associated with fitness because of their role as quality signals, is, however, unknown. Here, we use more than 5,800 observations collected on two Mediterranean blue tit subspecies (Cyanistes caeruleus caeruleus and Cyanistes caeruleus ogliastrae) to explore whether blue crown and yellow breast patch colorations have changed over the past 15 years. Our data suggest that coloration has become duller and less chromatic in both sexes. In addition, in the Corsican C.c. ogliastrae, but not in the mainland C.c. caeruleus, the decrease is associated with an increase in temperature at molt. Quantitative genetic analyses do not reveal any microevolutionary change in the color traits over the study period, strongly suggesting that the observed change over time was caused by a plastic response to the environmental conditions. Overall, this study suggests that ornamental colorations could become less conspicuous because of warming, revealing climate change effects on sexual and social ornaments and calling for further research on the proximate mechanisms behind these effects.