Polygyny in the red-winged blackbird: do females prefer monogamy or polygamy?
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Five hypotheses have been proposed to explain polygyny in the red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). We categorized the hypotheses into three groups based on female preference for unmated versus monogamously mated males: (1) the “polygyny threshold” model, “sexy son” hypothesis and the “asynchronous settlement” model, which assume that females prefer unmated males to mated males on breeding situations of homogeneous quality; (2) the “neutral mate choice” hypothesis, which assumes that females have no preference; and (3) the “cooperative female choice” model, which assumes that females prefer monogamously mated males to unmated males. We tested the direction of female preference in two field experiments. In both experiments, newly settling females were given a choice of two adjacent territories, one defended by an unmated male and the other by a monogamously mated male. Male mating status was randomized with respect to the variation in territory quality and male quality. Early in the breeding season, significantly more females settled with the unmated males than with the mated males. Although more females settled with the unmated males than with the mated males late in the breeding season, the difference was no longer significant. Female settlement late in the season appeared to be related to the tenure of the resident females: the new females avoided territories where the resident females were in early stages of their nesting, but settled on territories where the resident females were in late stages. The pattern of female settlement shows that females prefer unmated males to mated males. The preference is consistent with the polygyny threshold model, sexy son hypothesis and the asynchronous settlement model, and inconsistent with the neutral mate choice hypothesis and the cooperative female choice model. For this reason, the latter two hypotheses are unlikely to explain the occurrence of polygyny in our population of red-winged blackbirds.
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