, Volume 65, Issue 5, pp 1093-1102
Date: 26 Nov 2010

Sequential polyandry by brood desertion increases female fitness in a bird with obligatory bi-parental care

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Abstract

Parental care may be costly to parents because it decreases resources allocated to self-maintenance and may thus reduce survival and future reproductive success. An inter-sexual conflict may exist in animals with obligatory bi-parental care, such as birds of prey, in which females incubate and brood, whereas males provision food for their families. We analysed 29 years of data (1981–2009) from a study population of Tengmalm’s owls Aegolius funereus in western Finland to examine the occurrence and timing of brood desertion and sequential polyandry, and recorded a total of 1,123 monogamous and 12 polyandrous females. These data were supplemented with the 29-year nationwide Finnish ringing data, which included 11,590 monogamous and 20 polyandrous females. The 12 polyandrous females started egg-laying in their two nests at intervals of 54–68 days (mean 60 days), thus deserting their first broods when the age of oldest young averaged 21 days. Thirty-two polyandrous females re-mated and raised a second brood at a median distance of 4.5 km (range 1–196 km). These females produced 79% more eggs, 93% more hatchlings and 73% more fledglings than did females that laid simultaneously but remained monogamous. Our results show that not only males, but also females of altricial species with bi-parental care can increase their fitness by deserting their first brood when it will be cared for by the males. Earlier studies have shown that male owls can increase their lifetime reproductive success by simultaneous polygyny, and we suggest that an inter-sexual “tug-of-war” over bi-parental care exists in Tengmalm’s owls.

Communicated by M. Leonard