Social Organisation in the Malaysian Peacock Pheasant

McGowan, Philip James Kevin (1992). Social Organisation in the Malaysian Peacock Pheasant. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis reports a study of the behaviour and morphology of the Malaysian peacock pheasant Polyplectron malacense, an inhabitant of lowland rain forest in Peninsular Malaysia. A total of 21 months was spent in the field and museum collections were visited.

Micro-habitat analysis, radio-tracking and contextual analysis of calling behaviour and call playback experiments were used to collect data on the species in the wild.

Periods of calling arid display scrape maintenance were infrequent and unpredictable. Not all of the available micro-habitats within the primary forest were used by the birds as some areas were consistently avoided. Within calling periods males used particular micro-habitats to call and maintain display scrapes. Three different call types were heard. There were differences between calling periods in the number of birds calling, the types of calls given and the overall amount of calling. The number of display scrapes maintained also differed. Based on contextual observations, call playback experiments were conducted and stimulus tapes elicited responses and permitted investigation of call function.

There are several morphological features of the male which seem likely to be subject to sexual selection. Males appear to possess several sexually-selected traits which show considerable variability among individuals. Several male morphological characters have evolved in. association with particular epigamic display elements, suggesting that they are potentially under selection through female choice.

These results suggest that a female is presented with variation among males in several different ornamental traits. A qualitative model, based on food availability, is proposed to explain variation in calling and scrape maintenance among males. It is argued that opportunities for males to display to females may be very rare and that this may explain the evolution of the male's plumage and display. Females lay a single-egg clutch and hence only one male can fertilise a clutch, with the result that competition between males for paternity is likely to be very strong.

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