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Giroux M, Ditlecadet D, Martin LJ, Lanctot RB, Lecomte N. (2016) Sexing a gender-role-reversed species based on plumage: potential challenges in the red phalarope. PeerJ PrePrints4:e1704v1https://doi.org/10.7287/peerj.preprints.1704v1
Sex-role reversal, in which males care for offspring, can occur when mate competition is stronger between females than males. Secondary sex traits and mate attracting displays in sex-role-reversed species are usually more pronounced in females than in males. The red phalarope is a textbook example of a sex-role-reversed species. It is generally agreed that males are responsible for all incubation and parental care duties, whereas females typically desert males after having completed a clutch and may pair with new males to lay additional clutches. Breeding plumage of female red phalaropes is usually more brightly colored than male plumage, a reversed sexual dichromatism usually associated with sex-role reversal. Here, we confirm with PCR-based sexing that male red phalaropes can exhibit both the red body plumage typical of a female and the incubation behaviour typical of a male in this sex-role-reversed species. Our result, combined with previous observations of brightly coloured red phalaropes incubating nests at the same arctic location (Igloolik Island, Nunavut, Canada), suggests that plumage dichromatism alone may not be sufficient to distinguish males from females in this breeding population of red phalaropes. This stresses the need for more systematic genetic sexing combined with standardized description of intersexual differences in red phalarope plumages. Determining whether such female-like plumage on males is a result of phenotypic plasticity or genetic variation could contribute to further understanding sex-role reversal strategies in the short Arctic summer.
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