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Proc Biol Sci. 2000 Mar 7;267(1442):465-70.

Pre-dawn infidelity: females control extra-pair mating in superb fairy-wrens.

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  • 1Evolutionary Ecology Group, Division of Botany and Zoology, Australian National University, Canberra ACT. mike.double@anu.edu.au


Despite great interest in the use of extra-pair mating as a tool for examining female choice and intersexual selection, the underlying assumption of female control has proved difficult to verify empirically. We combined microsatellite genotyping and radiotelemetry of fertile females in order to investigate mate choice in superb fairy-wrens Malurus cyaneus, the bird with the highest known rate of extra-pair fertilization. All five females radio tracked during the peak of fertility, two to four days before the first egg is laid, undertook pre-dawn forays. All extra-pair young produced by the female were sired by a male visited during their forays, indicating that females control extra-pair fertilizations. In a larger sample of paternity data, some broods were sired by two extra-group males. In virtually all the cases the territory of the two sires were on an identical linear trajectory from the female's territory. This again suggests that extra-group paternity in superb fairy-wrens is directly linked to female extra-territorial forays. In other species mixed paternity has been taken to indicate that females attempt to insure against infertile pairings or try to maximize the genetic diversity of their brood. However, in fairy-wrens the likelihood of multiple extra-group paternity increased greatly as females traversed more territories in order to mate, perhaps suggesting that females which foray further are more likely to have difficulties locating the preferred male.

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