, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 193-199

Sexual selection and cuckoldry in a monogamous songbird: implications for sexual selection theory

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Sexual selection is generally assumed to be weaker in monogamous than in polygynous animals. Recently, though, extra-pair fertilizations have been hailed as an important force in generating variance in reproductive success among males in socially monogamous species, thereby increasing the intensity of sexual selection. To see if extra-pair copulations contribute to variance in male reproductive success in the house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), we used DNA fingerprinting to determine the paternity of chicks from 35 nests. This species is a socially monogamous passerine in which plumage brightness serves as a sexually selected indicator of male quality. Out of 119, nestlings 10 (8.3%) were fathered by a male other than the attending male, but cuckoldry occurred randomly with respect to the plumage colouration, size, or age of the attending male. Thus extra-pair fertilizations do not generate variance in male reproductive success with respect to plumage colour. On the other hand, a strongly male-biased sex ratio and asynchronous breeding by females may generate substantial variance in male reproductive success and could explain the evolution of ornamental colouration.