Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 61, Issue 11, pp 1725–1733 | Cite as

Female tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) increase offspring heterozygosity through extrapair mating

  • Mary K. StapletonEmail author
  • Oddmund Kleven
  • Jan T. Lifjeld
  • Raleigh J. Robertson
Original Paper


Recent attention has focused on genetic compatibility as an adaptive function for why females engage in extrapair mating. We tested the genetic compatibility hypothesis in tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) over five breeding seasons using data from ten microsatellite loci. Tree swallows are socially monogamous passerines exhibiting high levels of extrapair paternity. Overall, we found that 47% of offspring were the result of extrapair fertilizations, and 83% of females produced at least one extrapair offspring. Consistently for all years, extrapair offspring were more heterozygous than their maternal half-siblings, which is in accordance with the genetic compatibility hypothesis. The difference was largely caused by the high heterozygosity of extrapair offspring sired by unknown males, suggesting that females are engaging in extrapair copulations with geographically distant males to increase the likelihood of being inseminated by a more compatible mate. Our findings support the idea that postcopulatory mechanisms are important for females when assessing potential sires for their offspring.


Tree swallows Genetic similarity Extrapair mating Extrapair paternity Tachycineta bicolor Heterozygosity Genetic compatibility Genetic diversity Microsatellites 



We thank T. Burg, B. Campbell, F. Fossøy, R. Vallender, F. Jacobsen, A. Johnsen, L.E. Johannessen, R. Montgomerie, and L. Ratcliffe for helpful comments on this manuscript. Bill Amos kindly provided modified macros for our use in calculation of standardized heterozygosity, and L. Stenzler provided unpublished microsatellite primer sequences (Tbi81 and Tbi104). C. Scott provided helpful advice in the laboratory, and C. Dale and S. Harper provided excellent assistance with fieldwork. The facilities and logistical support of the Queen’s University Biological Station contributed to this study. Banding was conducted under Canadian Wildlife Service permit 10302, and all methods in this study were approved by the Queen’s University Animal Care Committee under permit no. RobertsRJ-040. Funding was provided through grants from the American Ornithologists’ Union (MKS), the Society for Canadian Ornithologists (MKS), Queen’s University (MKS), and an NSERC Discovery grant (RJR) and an NSERC Major Facilities Grant (to QUBS). The experiments comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary K. Stapleton
    • 1
    Email author
  • Oddmund Kleven
    • 2
  • Jan T. Lifjeld
    • 2
  • Raleigh J. Robertson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Zoology, Natural History MuseumUniversity of OsloOsloNorway

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