Dynamic selective environments and evolutionary traps in human-dominated landscapes.
Human activities can alter selective environments in ways that can reduce the usefulness of certain ornamental traits as honest signals of individual quality and, in some cases, may create evolutionary traps, where rapid changes in selective environments result in maladaptive behavioral decisions. Using the sexually dichromatic, socially monogamous Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) as a model, we hypothesized that urbanization would erode the relationship between plumage coloration and reproductive success. Because the exotic Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) provides carotenoids, is a preferred habitat attribute, and increases vulnerability to nest predation, we predicted the presence of an evolutionary trap, whereby the brightest males would achieve the lowest reproductive success. Working at 14 forests in Ohio, USA, 2006-2008, we measured plumage color, monitored reproduction, and quantified habitat within territories. In rural landscapes, the brightest males bred earliest in the season and secured more preferred territories; however, annual reproduction declined with plumage brightness. Coloration of urban males was not associated with territory attributes or reproduction. Female redness across all landscapes was negatively related to reproduction. Poor reproductive performance of otherwise higher-quality males probably resulted from preferences for honeysuckle, which reduces annual reproduction when used as a nesting substrate early in the season. In this way, exotic shrubs prompted an evolutionary trap that was avoided in urban forests where anthropogenic resources disassociated male color and reproductive phenology and success. Our study illustrates how modified selective environments in human-dominated landscapes might shape microevolutionary processes in wild bird populations.