11.05.2023: All dressed up and a god on the dance floor – in Saturday Night Fever, John Travolta made an impression both on the big screen and with the audience. Birds do it in a similar way, combining an attractive plumage with an acrobatic performance. The evolution of avian courtship displays was the focus of an international study conducted with the participation of researchers from the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna using manakins, a group of birds found throughout the American tropics.
For their study, the researchers compared the elaborate courtship behaviour of two closely related species, golden-collared manakins (Manacus vitellinus) and white-collared manakins (Manacus candei), and their hybrids, focusing on a small island population of hybrids off the coast of Panama.
Courtship dance beats genetic similarity
The study confirmed that the island birds were genetically similar to the mainland hybrids, which in turn were more similar genetically to the white-collared manakin parental species. The research team then analysed the courtship dance, which is performed within an area demarcated by small saplings, which the courtship male cleans before his courtship dance (jump-snap routine).
The researchers were surprised to find that hybrid males, despite their genetic similarity to white-collared manakins, performed key dance manoeuvres like golden-collared manakins. Other elements of the hybrids’ dance performance either did not differ from that of the white-collared parents or was a mix of the courtship dance of both parental species.