, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 180-187

Duetting and mate-guarding in Australian magpie-larks (Grallina cyanoleuca)

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A recently favored hypothesis is that duetting in birds has a mate-guarding function: a male responds vocally to his partner’s song, thereby forming a duet that repels males who are attracted to her song. Previous studies have not provided unambiguous tests of the mate-guarding hypothesis because: (1) the probability of a male answering his partner’s song has not been shown to increase specifically when the female is fertile, and (2) the probability of a male answering his partner’s song has not been assessed separately from simply a higher song initiation rate. We investigated extra-pair paternity, mate-guarding, and duetting in the socially monogamous Australian magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca). DNA fingerprinting revealed that 3% of young were the result of extra-pair paternity, and we found that males guarded fertile females by staying close to them. However, males did not initiate songs at a higher rate when females were fertile and actually reduced their probability of replying to female song during this period. We conclude that although male magpie-larks did guard fertile females in an attempt to prevent extra-pair copulations, they did not use duetting for this purpose.

Received: 10 May 1999 / Received in revised form: 27 September 1999 / Accepted: 2 October 1999