Do ornaments, arrival date, and sperm size influence mating and paternity success in the collared flycatcher?

  • Anaïs Edme
  • Petr Zobač
  • Pavlína Opatová
  • Petra Šplíchalová
  • Pavel Munclinger
  • Tomáš Albrecht
  • Miloš KristEmail author
Original Article


Males advertise their intrinsic parental and/or genetic qualities by the size of secondary sexual ornaments. Moreover, they compete with one another for the best territory and males who arrive first at the breeding ground usually have an advantage in this competition. Females may consider multiple male qualities simultaneously and prefer the one most important for their fitness in the current context. They can further improve their fitness by selecting the best care-giver as their social mate and engaging in an extra-pair copulation with a genetically superior male. In such cases, sperm competition arises in the female reproductive tract and its outcome may be affected by the sperm morphology of both the social and extra-pair male. Here, we tested these ideas in the collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis), a species with context-dependent choice of social partners and frequent extra-pair paternity. We recorded male arrival to breeding sites, manipulated their forehead patches, and measured sperm size. In contrast to a previous study in a Swedish population, males with enlarged patches were non-significantly less successful late in the season while no such difference was found early in the season. Besides this tendential seasonal interaction, arrival date did not affect mating and paternity success or male fitness, and the same was true for sperm size. These results suggest different benefits of male ornamentation and female mate choice between populations and call for more replicated research within and between species.

Significance statement

The fitness of a male of a migratory species might be affected by several pathways. First, early arrival should confer benefits in the form of best territory choice. Second, in a dichromatic and sexually promiscuous species, secondary sexual ornaments are considered by females both in the choice of social and extra-pair mates. Third, by modifying sperm traits, males may outmatch their rivals in sperm competition. These ideas have usually been tested in isolation. In this experimental study, we tested the joint effect of all of these factors on the genetic fitness of males. We found little evidence for the dependence of male reproductive success on either sperm morphology or plumage ornamentation which is in contrast to other populations of the species. Our study calls for replicated research both in well-established fields like mate choice and emerging ones like sperm competition.


Mating success Extra-pair paternity Differential allocation Sexual ornament Sperm size 



We thank Andrea Höchsmannová, Martin Janča, Tomáš Koutný, Jan Stříteský, Jan Vidlař, and Pavlína Vymazalová for help in the field and Jessica Cuthbert for corrections of the English. Comments of two anonymous reviewers greatly improved the quality of the manuscript. Martin Janča and Oldřich Tomášek helped with our pre-experiment in zebra finches. MK thanks Kačka for support.

Compliance with ethical standards


This study was funded by the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic (206/07/P485 and P506/12/2472) and IGA UPOL (IGA_PrF_2016_004).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This study was approved by the ethical committee of Palacky University and by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (license number: MSMT-56147/2012-310) and complies with the current laws of the Czech Republic.

Supplementary material

265_2016_2242_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.2 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 1199 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anaïs Edme
    • 1
  • Petr Zobač
    • 1
  • Pavlína Opatová
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Petra Šplíchalová
    • 4
  • Pavel Munclinger
    • 4
  • Tomáš Albrecht
    • 2
    • 4
  • Miloš Krist
    • 1
    • 5
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Zoology and Laboratory of Ornithology, Faculty of SciencePalacký UniversityOlomoucCzech Republic
  2. 2.Institute of Vertebrate BiologyCzech Academy of SciencesBrnoCzech Republic
  3. 3.Department of Botany and Zoology, Faculty of ScienceMasaryk UniversityBrnoCzech Republic
  4. 4.Department of Zoology, Faculty of ScienceCharles University in PraguePragueCzech Republic
  5. 5.Museum of Natural HistoryOlomoucCzech Republic

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