, Volume 116, Issue 3, pp 433-440

Mate fidelity and coloniality in waterbirds: a comparative analysis

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Increased opportunities for information are one potential benefit of sociality. We apply this idea to the advantages of colonial breeding in bird species that are typically monogamous within a breeding season but often form new pair-bonds in subsequent seasons. Individuals may benefit from nesting in colonies at high density by identifying good-quality potential alternative mates among their neighbours. The opportunities for finding a better mating option are likely to increase with colony size and density. We tested this prediction with a comparative analysis of the association between mate fidelity and coloniality in waterbirds (wading birds and seabirds), where there is wide variation in both the degree of mate retention over consecutive breeding seasons and the degree of coloniality. We used two comparative statistical analyses, one based upon generalized least squares and the other based upon a continuous-time Markov model, to test whether the pattern of association between divorce rate and degree of coloniality was evidence for correlated evolutionary change in the two characters. We found a significant and positive association between divorce rate and the degree of coloniality in waterbirds. The probable ancestral state corresponds to a combination of a high degree of coloniality with no, or weak, mate fidelity. The reconstruction of the historical pattern of character origin and evolution indicates that the transition from a high to a low degree of coloniality occurred before the transition to higher mate fidelity.