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Nature. 2000 Jul 20;406(6793):296-9.

Female bluethroats enhance offspring immunocompetence through extra-pair copulations.

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Zoological Museum, University of Oslo, Norway.


Female birds frequently copulate with extra-pair males, but the adaptive value of this behaviour is poorly understood. Some studies have suggested that 'good genes' may be involved, where females seek to have their eggs fertilized by high-quality males without receiving any material benefits from them. Nevertheless, it remains to be shown that a genetic benefit is passed on to offspring. Here we report that nestling bluethroats, Luscinia svecica, sired by extra-pair males had a higher T-cell-mediated immune response than their maternal half-siblings raised in the same nest. The difference could not be attributed to nestling body mass, sex or hatching order, but may be an effect of paternal genotype. Extra-pair young were also more immunocompetent than their paternal half-sibs raised in the genetic father's own nest, which indicates an additional effect of maternal genotype. Our results are consistent with the idea that females engage in extra-pair copulations to obtain compatible viability genes, rather than 'good genes' per se.

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