Multi-locus DNA fingerprinting supports genetic monogamy in Florida scrub-jays
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Extensive behavioural and pedigree data on a colour-marked population of Florida scrub-jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens) suggested that this cooperatively breeding species is monogamous, with extremely rare exceptions in which males have two mates. We used multi-locus DNA fingerprinting to test these observations by determining genetic parentage. Despite restricted dispersal and high relatedness between behavioural parents and non-breeding members of the group, DNA fingerprints provided sufficient variability to determine parentage unambiguously in almost all cases. We found no evidence of extra-pair fertilisation of females or egg dumping, and confirmed a suspected case of polygyny in which a mother and daughter laid and incubated in the same nest. Our results confirm that detailed behavioural data allow accurate assignment of genetic parentage in this species. In Florida scrub-jays, large territory size may limit opportunities for cuckoldry, and persistent intense competition for limited breeding space may lead to low variance in the quality of established male breeders. These factors would reduce both the opportunity for, and benefits of engaging in extra-pair fertilisations. Delayed dispersal and cooperative breeding in this species have not evolved as avenues for direct reproduction by unpaired individuals.
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