Modification of the visual background increases the conspicuousness of golden-collared manakin displays

J. Albert C. Uy, John A. Endler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


Effective visual communication requires signals that are easy to detect, transmit, receive, and discriminate. Animals can increase the probability that their visual signals would be detected by evolving signals that contrast with their visual background. Animals can further enhance this contrast by behaviorally modifying the existing visual background. Male golden-collared manakins (Manacus vitellinus) clear leaf litter from the ground to form courts, which are used as display arenas. Using reflectance measures of the signal (male plumage) and the visual background (cleared court and adjacent litter), the irradiance measures of ambient light during display, and published measures of photo receptor sensitivity of a Passerine, we test the hypothesis that court-clearing augments the contrast between male plumage and the visual background. We find that the chromatic and brightness contrasts of golden patches used during courtship are greater against the cleared court than against adjacent litter. In addition, we find that cleared courts provide a less variable background for these color patches, resulting in displays that consistently contrast the visual background. These results suggest that behavioral modification of the visual background may act to increase the conspicuousness of colorful male plumage during display, providing an explanation for why golden-collared manakins, and possibly other species, build or clear display courts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1003-1010
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Chromatic contrasts
  • Court-clearing
  • Manacus vitellinus
  • Manakins
  • Signaling
  • Visual signals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Ecology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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