Australian Journal of Zoology Australian Journal of Zoology Society
Evolutionary, molecular and comparative zoology

The Mating System of Free-Living Emus

CL Coddington and A Cockburn

Australian Journal of Zoology 43(4) 365 - 372
Published: 1995


Despite their pivotal role in interpretation of the complex mating systems of the ratites, the mating system of free-living emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae) has not been characterised. Here we report observations on an introduced but free-ranging population of emus at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve in the Australian Capital Territory. Emus combined monogamy, polyandry and promiscuity. All initially unpaired males paired with and incubated a clutch for females whose primary mates were preoccupied with incubation. However, females were also promiscuous, and most copulations we observed were extra-pair. Females fight vigorously among themselves for access to unpaired males. Coupled with observations on cassowaries, these data suggest that there is no simple correlation between habitat (grassland/forest) and the mating system in ratites. Instead, the resolution of the complex conflicts of interest between the sexes appears to determine the predominant mating systems exhibited by a species.

© CSIRO 1995

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