Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. David Westneat


Males of many species have elaborate phenotypes that are absent in females and that are thought to be the result of sexual selection. Sexual selection requires: (i) variance in male mating success, (ii) variation in male phenotype, and (iii) covariation between male mating success and male phenotype. Environmental conditions influence these factors, and management practices that alter environmental conditions have the potential to shape mating patterns and sexual selection. I investigated the hypothesis that the frequency of fire, used to manage tallgrass prairie, affects the mating patterns and process of sexual selection in the organisms breeding in managed prairies.

I studied dickcissels (Spiza americana), a small songbird resident in tallgrass prairie. I first examined mating patterns and sexual selection in dickcissels independent of burning regime. I found variation among males in the number of mates attracted, in the number of offspring sired with each mate, and the offspring sired with the mates of other males. I found a positive association between social mates and siring success, but no evidence for an effect of breeding density or synchronous nesting on mating success. Male dimorphic traits, size, song, and plumage, showed between-individual variation but selection gradients were weak and often fluctuated between the years of study.

I next examined patterns of mating success in plots burned on a variable schedule. I found little evidence that burning influenced either the mean or the variance in social mating success, paternity, or male phenotype. Burning regime also had no influence on sexual selection gradients with the single exception of selection on tarsus length. Temporal variation was more important for patterns of mating success and sexual selection gradients on male traits than was burning regime. The demography of dickcissels in the breeding season suggests, however, that habitat management on a larger scale may be more influential. My findings extend our understanding of sexual selection in birds and the effects of management on the factors required for sexual selection and the magnitude of selection.

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