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, 53 (3), 938-946

EXTRAPAIR MATE CHOICE AND HONEST SIGNALING IN COOPERATIVELY BREEDING SUPERB FAIRY-WRENS

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EXTRAPAIR MATE CHOICE AND HONEST SIGNALING IN COOPERATIVELY BREEDING SUPERB FAIRY-WRENS

Peter O Dunn et al. Evolution.

Abstract

In many species of monogamous birds females copulate with males other than their social mates, resulting in extrapair fertilizations. Little is known about how females choose extrapair mates and whether the traits used to choose them are reliable indicators of male quality. Here we identify a novel male trait associated with extra-group mating success in the superb fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus), a cooperatively breeding bird with one of the highest known frequencies of extra-group mating. Female fairy-wrens chose extra-group mates that molted earlier into breeding plumage. Males molted up to five months before the breeding season began, and only males that molted at least one month prior to its onset gained any extra-group fertilizations. This conclusion held after controlling statistically for the effect of age and social status on molt date. Once males acquired breeding plumage, they began courtship display to females on other territories. Thus, some males were displaying to females for several months before the breeding season began. This extraordinarily long period of advertisement by males may be facilitated by the long-term ownership of territories. We suggest that early acquisition of breeding plumage or the subsequent display behavior can be reliable cues for mate choice because they are costly to acquire or maintain.

Keywords: Age; DNA fingerprinting; Malurus cyaneus; cooperative breeding; extrapair paternity; molt; sexual selection.

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