Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Infidelity yields better offspring

Here is a study of birds (dark-eyed juncos) who form a social pair with one partner but produce more than one-quarter of their offspring from extra-pair matings. These young go on to reproduce more successfully than those sired within the social pair. (I could wonder if this is relevant to us humans.)
In many species, each female pairs with a single male for the purpose of rearing offspring, but may also engage in extra-pair copulations. Despite the prevalence of such promiscuity, whether and how multiple mating benefits females remains an open question. Multiple mating is typically thought to be favoured primarily through indirect benefits (i.e. heritable effects on the fitness of offspring). This prediction has been repeatedly tested in a variety of species, but the evidence has been equivocal, perhaps because such studies have focused on pre-reproductive survival rather than lifetime fitness of offspring. Here, we show that in a songbird, the dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis), both male and female offspring produced by extra-pair fertilizations have higher lifetime reproductive success than do offspring sired within the social pair. Furthermore, adult male offspring sired via extra-pair matings are more likely to sire extra-pair offspring (EPO) themselves, suggesting that fitness benefits to males accrue primarily through enhanced mating success. By contrast, female EPO benefited primarily through enhanced fecundity. Our results provide strong support for the hypothesis that the evolution of extra-pair mating by females is favored by indirect benefits and shows that such benefits accrue much later in the offspring's life than previously documented.

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