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Territorial meadow pipit males (Anthus pratensis; Passeriformes) become more aggressive in female presence

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Abstract

Although mate guarding as prevention of extra-pair copulation is common among birds, evidence for aggressive behaviour involving physical contact related to mate guarding in passerines is scarce and cases of the presence of one partner directly influencing the aggressiveness of the other are lacking. We investigated the intra-specific territorial behaviour of male meadow pipits (Anthus pratensis; Passeriformes: Motacillidae) at the beginning of the breeding season by placing a pipit model accompanied by an intra-specific song playback in the territory of socially paired males and compared the responses of males whose mates were physically present during trials with those whose females were out of sight. The level of aggression of males was significantly higher in the presence of the female; half of the males in this group physically attacked the model (the most intense and risky aggressive behaviour). Physical attacks did not occur among males whose female was absent during the trial; response to the playback by most of these males was only weak. This pattern may be related to the prevention of extra-pair copulation; if the risks involved in the conflict are outweighed by potential loss of paternity, such aggressive mate guarding may pay off. The apparently overlooked effect on the territorial behaviour of a partner’s passive physical presence during conflict should be further evaluated because it may be important for the design and interpretation of results of behavioural experiments.

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Acknowledgements

Our research of pipit behaviour was supported by the Czech Ministry of Education (projects MSM 0021620828, MSM 6198959212 and FRVŠ 2820/2003) and the Czech Science Foundation (project GAČR 206/02/P074). We thank Wolfgang Forstmeier, Vojtěch Jarošík, Tomáš Grim and anonymous referees for various valuable comments on previous versions of the manuscript and especially Matt Low and Herman Mays whose suggestions and criticism were extremely helpful. We are also thankful to David Hardekopf and Matt Low for improving our English. The experiments were compliant with all the relevant laws of the Czech Republic and approved by the Krkonoše National Park authorities and the ethical committee of the Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague.

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Correspondence to Tereza Petrusková.

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Detailed results of individual experiments

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Petrusková, T., Petrusek, A., Pavel, V. et al. Territorial meadow pipit males (Anthus pratensis; Passeriformes) become more aggressive in female presence. Naturwissenschaften 94, 643–650 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-007-0237-z

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