The handicap principle proposes that male sexual ornaments and displays provide honest indicators of quality. Female preference for high-quality males, however, may be driven not only by genetic benefits but also by indirect benefits. We investigated the impact of parasitism on morphological, ornamental, and behavioral characteristics of male and female blue-black grassquits (Volatinia jacarina) in captivity. First, we tested whether male displays and morphology were influenced by parasitism. Second, we assessed if females were attentive to variation in male morphology and displays linked to parasitism. Third, we tested whether parasitism in females influenced health and mate preferences. We maintained 2 groups of birds in captivity: nonmedicated birds developed high levels of coccidian parasitism, whereas medicated birds were free of parasitism. Parasitized males developed, relative to nonparasitized males, lower weight/tarsus indices and mass. They also showed relative deficiencies in their displays, with less persistence and lower rates. Despite the negative effects of parasitism on males, females did not prefer nonparasitized males. This held for both parasitized and nonparasitized females. Our data suggest that coccidian parasitism has adverse effects on morphological condition and expression of displays. These effects, however, appear not to be attended to by females; moreover, female mate preferences appear not to be impacted by the threat of parasitism. It thus seems that female mate preferences may not depend only on sexual characters affected by parasitism in this species.
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