Extra-pair paternity and mate-guarding behaviour in the brown thornbill
David J. Green, Anne Peters and Andrew Cockburn
Australian Journal of Zoology
50(6) 565 - 580
Published: 30 December 2002
We used multilocus DNA fingerprinting to assess parentage in the brown thornbill, Acanthiza pusilla, a socially monogamous Australian passerine. Extra-pair paternity was uncommon (6.2% of 178 offspring; 11.9% of 67 broods) and there was no evidence of intra-specific brood parasitism. Extra-pair paternity was limited because pairs spent more time together when females were fertile and males were able to evict intruding males before they could approach the female. Males were responsible for the close proximity of partners during the fertile period. Mate guarding therefore appears to be a male tactic aimed at preventing female infidelity rather than a cooperative behaviour of the pair aimed at preventing extra-pair copulations and/or female harassment. Females did not attempt to escape male guarding and were rarely observed to solicit copulations from intruding males. Nevertheless, females paired to smaller and younger males were more likely to cuckold their mates than females paired to larger and older males. This suggests that females may be more likely to seek or accept extra-pair matings when paired to small, young males or that old, large males are better at preventing their mates from engaging in extra-pair copulations. We found that male age but not male size influences mate-guarding behaviour. Older males tended to respond more aggressively to intruders. We therefore speculate that the relationship between male size/age and extra-pair paternity in brown thornbills may arise because female thornbills prefer large males as mates but are unable to express this preference as easily when paired to older males.
Full text doi:10.1071/ZO02037
© CSIRO 2002