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Convergence of biannual moulting strategies across birds and mammals


Birds and mammals have developed numerous strategies for replacing worn feathers and hair. Moulting usually occurs on an annual basis; however, moults that take place twice per year (biannual moults) also occur. Here, we review the forces driving the evolution of various moult strategies, focusing on the special case of the complete biannual moult as a convergence of selection pressures across birds and mammals. Current evidence suggests that harsh environmental conditions or seasonality (e.g. larger variation in temperatures) drive evolution of a biannual moult. In turn, the biannual moult can respond to secondary selection that results in phenotypic alteration such as colour changes for mate choice dynamics (sexual selection) or camouflage requirements (natural selection). We discuss the contributions of natural and sexual selection to the evolution of biannual moulting strategies in the contexts of energetics, niche selection, functionality and physiological mechanisms. Finally, we suggest that moult strategies are directly related to species niche because environmental attributes drive the utility (e.g. thermoregulation, camouflage, social dynamics) of the hair or feathers. Functional efficiency of moult may be undermined if the pace of evolution fails to match that of the changing climate. Thus, future research should seek to understand the plasticity of moult duration and phenology, especially in the context of annual cycles.

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