Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



Published in Animal Behaviour 139 (2018) 171–180



Copyright © 2018 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Ltd. Used by permission..


Cooperative breeding, in which auxiliary group members help rear related, but nondescendent young, is often explained by kin selection. Reproductive monogamy is predicted in cooperatively breeding systems, as monogamy increases intragroup relatedness and maximizes auxiliary inclusive fitness. While monogamy is observed across many systems, including eusocial insects and cooperatively breeding mammals, some cooperatively breeding birds exhibit high rates of extrapair paternity. Here we quantify paternity and examine the role of auxiliaries on extrapair paternity in the highly cooperative variegated fairy-wren, Malurus lamberti, a species with both male and female auxiliaries. Extrapair paternity occurred in 55.4% of nests, and 39.8% of offspring were the result of extrapair matings. The presence of both male and female auxiliaries had a positive relationship with the percentage of within-pair young sired by dominant males, however, the presence of male auxiliaries had a stronger impact than the presence of females. The number of extrapair young sired by dominant males decreased as the number of male auxiliaries increased. The total number of young sired by dominant males, however, was not predicted by group size or relatedness to their social partner, nor did group composition or relatedness to the breeding pair predict the reproductive success of subordinate males. We hypothesize that breeders use alternative reproductive strategies in the presence or absence of auxiliaries. Males and females may seek extrapair reproductive opportunities when no help is available in their group and nest survival is expected to be low. When help is available, breeders may reduce extrapair paternity, either to increase intragroup relatedness or because confidence in nest survival is high. Our data suggest that group composition is important in understanding extrapair paternity rates in cooperatively breeding birds and that variation in extrapair paternity rates may be the result of flexible breeding strategies when auxiliary presence and identity varies.