, Volume 57, Issue 3, pp 224-230
Date: 26 Oct 2004

Divorce in common murres (Uria aalge ): relationship to parental quality

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Behavioral precursors of 12 divorces were examined in 30 color-banded pairs of common murres (Uria aalge) over six breeding seasons. Common murres are long-lived seabirds that typically return each year to the same mate and nest site in dense colonies. At least one parent is present continuously from egg lay to chick fledging. Murres, therefore, have considerable opportunities to compare their mates’ parental behavior with that of several familiar neighbors. Previous reproductive success was lower for divorcing birds than for reuniting pairs. As predicted by the better option hypothesis, there were clear ‘choosers’ (seven females and five males) that initiated divorce by moving to a new bird’s site or by courting a new partner at their current site. Choosers improved their reproductive success after the divorce, whereas their previous partners, the ‘victims’ did not. Yearly divorce rates (average 8.2% per year) were significantly correlated with yearly mortality rates. Divorces appear to be opportunistic: pairs divorced after varying numbers of reproductive failures with the immediate precursor usually being the disappearance (death) of a murre from a successful neighboring site. In contrast to the delays experienced by victims, choosers formed new pairs quickly and laid their eggs no later than reuniting pairs. Prior to the divorce, victims fed their chicks less often than choosers, and some engaged in other behaviors that compromised egg or chick survival. These observations suggest that deficiencies in parental behavior were precursors to the divorce. This report is one of the first cases where reproductive failure of divorcing pairs has been linked to deficits in the parental behavior of the subsequent divorce victim.