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Behav Processes. 2000 Oct 5;51(1-3):63-82.

Lek mating systems: a case study in the Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax.

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  • 1CEBC-CNRS, Centre Biologie de Chize, F-79360, Villiers en Bois, France


Leks have recently been defined as male display aggregations that females attend primarily for the purpose of mating. This is an extended version of previous definitions, as a clear-cut definition of leks is difficult to obtain. Four criteria should be verified to identify a lekking species: (i) there is no male parental investment beyond the sperm; (ii) males aggregate at specific sites for display; (iii) the only resource females find on the lek is the male, i.e. the male genes; (iv) females can select her mate(s), although the necessity of this latter condition for lekking species has been highly debated. We applied these criteria to the endangered little bustard Tetrax tetrax, a species that is claimed to show an exploded lek mating system, but for which this has never been fully investigated. We monitored a population of little bustards in western France during 2 years to investigate the two central criteria in the assessment of their mating system: male aggregation in arenas and lack of consistent resources in male territories. We analysed the spatial distribution of little bustard male territories, the individual variation in size, and the land use characteristics of male territories, with particular attention to the habitats that may be considered as defensible resources. Displaying males showed an aggregated spatial distribution over the study area during the 2 years of survey. Male territories were rather large (19+/-16 ha), but a large among-male variability in territory size was observed. Land use within the territories included mainly permanent and semi-permanent crops. The variability in land use among territories suggests also that resources found within male territories were selected according to male needs (food and display) rather than to female needs (permanent crops that are more appropriate for reproduction). The mating system of the little bustard seems to match the general (and extended) definition of leks, at least in some populations. However, limits between resource defence polygyny and extreme exploded or resource-based leks are thin and unclear, and the little bustard is a good example of how lek definitions may be difficult to apply in non clear-cut empirical situations.

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