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Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Feb 22;270(1513):379-84.

Subordinate superb fairy-wrens (Malurus cyaneus) parasitize the reproductive success of attractive dominant males.

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Evolutionary Ecology Group, School of Botany and Zoology, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.


Explanations of cooperative breeding have largely focused on the indirect benefits philopatric offspring gain from investing in kin. However, recent molecular studies have revealed that in many species subordinates provision unrelated offspring. This has led to the re-evaluation of the direct and indirect benefits of helping behaviour. In this study, we used microsatellite genotyping to assess the extra-group reproductive success of subordinate superb fairy-wrens (Malurus cyaneus), a species with extremely high rates of extra-group paternity. Extra-group subordinate males sired 10.2% (193 out of 1895) of all offspring sampled between 1993 and 2000 and 21.4% (193 out of 901) of all illegitimate offspring sired by known males. The extra-group success of subordinates was greatly influenced by the attractiveness of their dominant male. Subordinates of attractive dominants sired more extra-group young than did average dominants. Evidence suggests that mate choice in superb fairy-wrens is error-prone and subordinates can gain direct reproductive benefits through parasitizing the reproductive success of attractive dominants.

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