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Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Feb 7;270(1512):259-64.

Long-term fitness consequences of female extra-pair matings in a socially monogamous passerine.

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  • 1Institute for Evolutionary Biology and Ecology, University of Bonn, An der Immenburg 1, D-53121 Bonn, Germany.


Whether female birds choose extra-pair mating partners to obtain genetic fitness benefits is intensely debated. The most straightforward and crucial test of 'good genes' models of female extra-pair mating is the comparison of naturally 'cross-fostered' maternal half-siblings sharing the same rearing environment as any systematic differences in performance between the two categories of offspring phenotype can be attributed to differential paternal genetic contribution. We analysed local recruitment and first-year reproductive performance of maternal half-siblings in the coal tit (Parus ater), a passerine bird with high levels of extra-pair paternity. We provide a highly comprehensive measure of the long-term fitness consequences of female extra-pair matings based on a large sample of 736 within-pair offspring (WPO) and 368 extra-pair offspring (EPO) from 91 first and 55 second broods, from which 132 breeders recruited into the study population. In contrast to predictions derived from 'good genes' models, we found no differences in local recruitment and seven parameters of first-year reproductive performance when comparing WPO and EPO. These results question the universal validity of findings in other bird species supporting 'good genes' models, particularly as they are based on the best approximation to female fitness obtained so far.

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