Sequential polyandry through divorce and re-pairing in a cooperatively breeding bird reduces helper-offspring relatedness
Polyandry is an important component of both sexual selection and kin structuring within cooperatively breeding species. A female may have multiple partners within a single reproductive attempt (simultaneous polyandry) or across multiple broods within and/or across years (sequential polyandry). Both types of polyandry confer a range of costs and benefits to individuals and alter the genetic structure of social groups over time. To date, many molecular studies of cooperative breeders have examined the evolution of cooperative breeding in relation to simultaneous polyandry. However, cooperatively breeding vertebrates are iteroparous, and thus sequential polyandry is also likely, but more rarely considered in this context. We examined sequential polyandry in a cooperatively breeding bird that has a low level of within-brood polyandry. Over a 5-year period (2006–2010), we monitored individual mating relationships using molecular markers in a population of individually marked apostlebirds (Struthidea cinerea). Divorce occurred between reproductive seasons in 17 % (8/48) of pairs and appeared to be female-driven. The level of sequential polyandry was also driven by the disappearance of males after breeding, and over 90 % of females, for whom we had suitable data, bred with multiple males over the period of study. This sequential polyandry significantly altered the relatedness of group members to the offspring in the nest. However, in about half of the cases, the second male was related (first- or second-order relative) to the first male of a sequentially polyandrous female and this alleviated the reduction in relatedness caused by polyandry. Our findings suggest that even in species with high within-brood parentage certainty, helper-offspring relatedness values can quickly erode through sequential polyandry.
KeywordsWithin-group extra-group extrapair paternity Reproductive flexibility Cooperative breeding
We would like to thank Nichola Rahaini, Aliza Sager, Sophia Kehmeier, Claudia Wascher and a number of additional students and volunteers for assisting with field observations and data collection. MHW was supported by a Macquarie University Research Excellence Scholarship, SCG by an ARC QEII Fellowship and AFR by the Royal Society University Research Fellowship scheme.
Compliance with ethical standards
The work presented here complies with the current laws of the country in which it was conducted.
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