One of the classic examples of an exaggerated sexually selected trait is the elaborate plumage that forms the train in male peafowl Pavo cristatus (peacock). Such ornaments are thought to reduce locomotor performance as a result of their weight and aerodynamic drag, but this cost is unknown. Here, the effect that the train has on take-off flight in peacocks was quantified as the sum of the rates of change of the potential and kinetic energies of the body (PCoM) in birds with trains and following the train's removal. There was no significant difference between PCoM in birds with and without a train. The train incurs drag during take-off; however, while this produces a twofold increase in parasite drag, parasite power only accounts for 0.1% of the total aerodynamic power. The train represented 6.9% of body weight and is expected to increase induced power. The absence of a detectable effect on take-off performance does not necessarily mean that there is no cost associated with possessing such ornate plumage; rather, it suggests that given the variation in take-off performance per se, the magnitude of any effect of the train has little meaningful functional relevance.
The author declares no competing financial interests.
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
- © 2014. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd