Protandry refers to the earlier appearance of males before females at sites of reproduction. Sexual selection has been hypothesized to give rise to sex differences in benefits and costs of early arrival, thereby selecting for earlier appearance by the sex subject to more intense sexual selection. If sexual selection is more intense, there is a greater premium on early arrival among individuals of the chosen sex because of direct selection for earlier arrival. This hypothesis leads to the prediction that changes in the costs and benefits of early arrival related to changes in environmental conditions should particularly affect the sex that arrives first and hence the degree of protandry. I tested this hypothesis using the Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica. During 1971–2003, the degree of protandry increased significantly in a Danish population because males advanced arrival date while females did not. This earlier arrival by males compared with females was correlated with a significant increase by over 1.2 standard deviations in the length of the outermost tail feathers of males, a secondary sexual character, suggesting direct selection on both protandry and the secondary sexual character. Environmental conditions during spring migration in Northern Africa, as reflected by the normalized difference vegetation index, have deteriorated since 1984, resulting in increased mortality among males during spring migration, but not among females, and this deterioration of climatic conditions was positively correlated with an increasing degree of protandry. Likewise, an increase in April temperatures at the breeding grounds during recent decades is positively correlated with increased protandry, apparently because males can arrive earlier without increasing the fitness cost of early arrival. Local population size did not predict changes in arrival date. These findings suggest that rapid changes in climate can cause a change in degree of protandry and secondary sexual characters.
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