Little Effect of Extra-Pair Paternity on the Opportunity for Sexual Selection in Savannah Sparrows

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Extrapair paternity (EPP) can dramatically increase the opportunity for sexual selection if relatively few males are able to monopolize the majority of fertilizations in a population. Although recent work with birds suggests that EPP can increase the standardized variance in male reproductive success (Is) as much as 13-fold, only a male's within-pair success is typically quantified with any accuracy. In most cases, nearly half of all extrapair young are of unknown parentage. A strong, negative correlation across studies between the proportion of extrapair young for which parentage is known and the apparent effect of EPP on Is (rs = −0.71, P = 0.013, N = 13 studies) suggests that the incomplete sampling of extrapair sires has greatly exaggerated the influence of EPP. To achieve a more thorough accounting of EPP and its importance to variation in male fitness, we used a suite of four to six microsatellite loci to identify extrapair young and their sires in a polygynous population of Savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis). Pooling over the 2002 and 2003 breeding seasons, 79 of 116 females (68.1%) produced young outside of the pairbond and 194 of 411 offspring (47.2%) were extrapair. We identified sires for 96.4% of all young (N = 396), including sires for 92.3% of the extrapair young (N = 179), allowing us to partition Is into within-pair and extrapair components. In both years, EPP-related fitness components generated more variation in male reproductive success than the number or quality of within-pair mates. Differences among males in the number of extrapair mates alone accounted for 56.6% of Is in 2002 and for 23.6% of Is in 2003. Nonetheless, in absolute terms, the occurrence of EPP on Kent Island increased the opportunity for sexual selection less than two-fold. Averaging over the two years, Is was only 78% higher than Is,app, the variance in male reproductive success that would have occurred had EPP been nonexistent and males sired all young on their territories. Likewise, across nine socially monogamous species, we found no correlation between the extent of EPP and its effect on the opportunity for sexual selection (Is/Is,app) and only a marginally significant positive correlation between EPP and Is itself. Taken together, our results suggest that the relationship between EPP and sexual selection in birds may be much less strong and much less straightforward than commonly thought.


Extrapair paternity, individual optimization, mixed reproductive strategies, sexual selection, sperm competition