Song and female choice for extrapair copulations in the sedge warbler, Acrocephalus schoenobaenus

Rupert C. Marshall, Katherine L. Buchanan, Clive K. Catchpole

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Although 90% of passerine birds live in socially monogamous pair bonds, molecular studies have revealed that genetic polygamy occurs in 86% of surveyed passerines, because individuals engage in copulations outside the pair bond (extrapair copulations; EPCs). Most explanations for the occurrence of EPCs involve female gaining indirect benefits from the extrapair male. The sedge warbler is a socially monogamous species in which some offspring result from EPCs (8% in this study). Complex song is a sexually selected male trait used by females which select mates based on a variety of male qualities. We used microsatellite DNA profiling to detect extrapair young and assign paternity. ‘Good genes’ theory predicts that females should engage in EPCs with males of higher quality than their social mate, with resulting fitness benefits. Extrapair males had smaller song repertoires and smaller territories than the social mate. This apparent preference for small-repertoire males as extrapair mates conflicts with the predictions from previous studies of this species. Sudden cessation of song after pairing may mean that song cues are unavailable for later extrapair matings and females may switch to other cues. Such behaviour may lead to different patterns of female choice during social and extrapair mating in the sedge warbler. We conclude that multiple reasons underlie patterns of female choice in this species.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)629-635
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number4
Early online date13 Mar 2007
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2007


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