Phenology-mediated effects of phenotype on the probability of social polygyny and its fitness consequences in a migratory passerine

BMC Ecol Evol. 2021 Apr 13;21(1):55. doi: 10.1186/s12862-021-01786-w.


Why females engage in social polygyny remains an unresolved question in species where the resources provided by males maximize female fitness. In these systems, the ability of males to access several females, as well as the willingness of females to mate with an already mated male, and the benefits of this choice, may be constrained by the socio-ecological factors experienced at the local scale. Here, we used a 19-year dataset from an individual-monitored population of pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) to establish local networks of breeding pairs. Then, we examined whether the probability of becoming socially polygynous and of mating with an already mated male (thus becoming a secondary female) is influenced by morphological and sexual traits as proxies of individual quality relative to the neighbours. We also evaluated whether social polygyny is adaptive for females by examining the effect of females' mating status (polygamously-mated vs monogamously-mated) on direct (number of recruits in a given season) and indirect (lifetime number of fledglings produced by these recruits) fitness benefits. The phenotypic quality of individuals, by influencing their breeding asynchrony relative to their neighbours, mediated the probability of being involved in a polygynous event. Individuals in middle-age (2-3 years), with large wings and, in the case of males, with conspicuous sexual traits, started to breed earlier than their neighbours. By breeding locally early, males increased their chances of becoming polygynous, while females reduced their chances of mating with an already mated male. Our results suggest that secondary females may compensate the fitness costs, if any, of sharing a mate, since their number of descendants did not differ from monogamous females. We emphasize the need of accounting for local breeding settings (ecological, social, spatial, and temporal) and the phenotypic composition of neighbours to understand individual mating decisions.

Keywords: Fitness; Neighbourhood; Phenotype; Polygyny; Polygyny threshold model; Sexy son hypothesis; Social polygamy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Male
  • Marriage*
  • Phenotype
  • Probability
  • Reproduction
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal*