Evolutionary neurobiology of courtship displays

How did sexual selection lead to the evolution of elaborate, ritualized courtship displays of males?  And how do females select their mates on the basis of these displays?  In higher vertebrates male courtship and female choice are the two key factors determining reproductive success – no copulation, no offspring.  My strategy is to integrate behaviour, physiology and neurobiology in a comparative approach that involves both field and laboratory studies.

The Golden-collared manakin

Currently, we are studying the courtship behaviour of the Golden-collared manakin Manacus vitellinus, a small passerine that ranges from Western Panama and Eastern Colombia. Manakins belongs to the family Pipridae and are known for their spectacular courtship displays.

Golden-collared Manakin

Recently, we found that male manakins have extremely high heart rates - more than 1200 beats per minute! - when they perform their courtship display. Female seem to prefer to mate with males that have good motor skills, which might indicate neuromuscular and cardiac aspects of male quality that female will pass to their offspring.

The study is done in collaboration with the groups of Barney A. Schlinger 2 at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Lainy E. Day 3 at the University of Mississipi. Other collaborators include Martin Wikelski (Max-Planck-Institute for Ornithology, Radolfzell, Germany) and Daniel J. Bodony and George Swenson (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaigne).


National Science Foundation, USA

National Geographic Society, USA

Selected publications

Coccon, F., Schlinger, B. A. & Fusani, L. 2012. Male Golden-collared Manakins Manacus vitellinus do not adapt their courtship display to spatial alteration of their court. Ibis, 154, 173-176.

Barske, J., Schlinger, B. A., Wikelski, M. & Fusani, L. 2011. Female choice for male motor skills. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 278, 3523-3528.

Day, L. B., Fusani, L., Kim, C. & Schlinger, B. A. 2011. Sexually Dimorphic Neural Phenotypes in Golden-Collared Manakins (Manacus vitellinus). Brain, Behavior and Evolution, 77, 206-218.

Fusani, L., Day, L., Canoine, V., Reinemann, D., Hernandez, E. & Schlinger, B. 2007a. Androgen and the elaborate courtship behavior of a tropical lekking bird. Hormones and Behavior, 51, 62-68.

Fusani, L., Giordano, M., Day, L. & Schlinger, B. 2007b. High-speed video analysis reveals individual variability in the courtship displays of male golden-collared manakins. Ethology, 113, 964-972.