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Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone mutata

The Madagascar paradise flycatcher is a small passerine that inhabits a range of habitats throughout Madagascar and the Comoros Islands. The species is particularly distinctive because two male plumage morphs coexsist, ‘white’ and ‘rufous’. There has been mush debate about the cause of this dimorphism. Considering the results of a nine-year study monitoring plumage changes in individuals, we found this species does not change colour seasonally, nor is the rufous morph simply a precursor to white plumage as was previously thought. We found individual males follow irreversible development pathways to rufous or white colouration. This fixed nature suggests the dechromatism has a genetic basis.

In a separate study we examined the relationship between song attributes and habitat density. It has been hypothesized that acoustic properties of song should be correlated with the habitat in which they are broadcast, and neighbouring individuals should sing similar songs because they share the same local acoustic environment. We tested these predictions by investigating associations between habitat characteristics and song attributes in the Madagascar paradise flycatcher. We also examined whether there were local song dialects within the population. We found individuals on territories with denser habitats sang longer songs at lower frequencies. We also found that the distribution of dialects within the study site was strongly associated with variation in understorey cover. This suggests habitat variation contributes to maintaining variation in song structure in this species. A sample of Madagascar paradise flycatcher song can be heard at the Macaulay Library, Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

More information about this research can be found in these publications:

Mulder, RA (2013). Madagascar paradise flycatcher Terpsiphone mutata. In Birds of the Malagasy Region (Ed. by R. Safford & AFA Hawkins). A&C Black, London.

Pierce, AJ, Stevens, DK, Mulder, RA & Salewski, V (2007). Plastic colour rings and the incidence of leg injury in flycatchers (Muscicapidae, Monarchidae). Ringing & Migration 23: 205-210. Full text

van Dongen, WFD & Mulder, RA (2006). Habitat density, song structure and dialects in the Madagascar paradise flycatcher (Terpsiphone mutata). Journal of Avian Biology 37: 349-356. Full text

Mulder, RA & Ramiarison, R (2003). Madagascar paradise flycatcher (Terpsiphone mutata). In The Natural History of Madagascar (Goodman, SM & Benstead JP, eds). pp 1134-1138. Chicago University Press.

Mulder, RA, Ramiarison, R & Emahalala, RE (2002). Ontogeny of male plumage dichromatism in Madagascar paradise flycatchers Terpsiphone mutata. Journal of Avian Biology 33: 342-348. Full text

Adcock, G & Mulder, RA (2002). Polymorphic microsatellite loci for paternity analysis in the Madagascar paradise flycatcher (Terpsiphone mutata: Aves). Molecular Ecology Notes 2: 287-289. Full text

Photo: Cyril Ruoso

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