Age-related mate choice in the wandering albatross

Anim Behav. 1999 May;57(5):1099-1106. doi: 10.1006/anbe.1999.1083.


We studied mate choice in the wandering albatross, Diomedea exulans, using data from 32 years of banding returns in the population of the Crozet Islands. We studied mating choices in a single year, when the Crozet Islands population was male biased (8:5, males:females). Thus, we expected that females might show great flexibility of choice of partners. Because age and experience might influence mate choice, we tested the expectation that females would choose the oldest and most experienced males for pair bonding. Pair bonds usually last until one member of the pair dies (0.3% of the birds 'divorce'), so mate choice should be especially important. We found that the ages of males and females in both displaying and bonded (breeding) pairs were significantly correlated. These age-associated pairings were not a passive phenomenon, but appeared to be due to an active process of selection of mates of similar age. First-time breeders sought mates of similar age, but preferred those with the most experience. Remating, experienced birds whose mates had died did not pair with individuals of significantly similar age, but predominantly paired with other widowed birds that, on average, were also relatively old. Mate fidelity in wandering albatrosses may be due to the cost of finding and bonding with a new mate. Pair bonds, and thus breeding, took an average of 3.2 and 2.3 years to establish, for males and females, respectively. Thus, remating exerts a potential average reproductive cost of about 15% of lifetime reproductive success. Copyright 1999 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.