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Declining extra-pair paternity with laying order associated with initial incubation behavior, but independent of final clutch size in the blue tit

Vedder, Oscar, Magrath, Michael J. L., Niehoff, Daphne L., van der Velde, Marco, Komdeur, Jan
Behavioral ecology and sociobiology 2012 v.66 no.4 pp. 603-612
Cyanistes caeruleus, birds, clutch size, copulation, eggs, females, motivation, paternity, physiological state, progeny
Although functional explanations for female engagement in extra-pair copulation have been studied extensively in birds, little is known about how extra-pair paternity is linked to other fundamental aspects of avian reproduction. However, recent studies indicate that the occurrence of extra-pair offspring may generally decline with laying order, possibly because stimulation by eggs induces incubation, which may suppress female motivation to acquire extra-pair paternity. Here we tested whether experimental inhibition of incubation during the laying phase, induced by the temporary removal of eggs, resulted in increased extra-pair paternity, in concert with a later cessation of laying, in blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus). As expected, experimental females showed a more gradual increase in nocturnal incubation duration over the laying phase and produced larger clutches than controls. Moreover, incubation duration on the night after the first egg was laid predicted how extra-pair paternity declined with laying order, with less incubation being associated with more extra-pair offspring among the earliest eggs in the clutch. However, incubation duration on this first night was unrelated to our experimental treatment and independent of final clutch size. Consequently, the observed decline in extra-pair paternity with laying order was unaffected by our manipulation and larger clutches included proportionally fewer extra-pair offspring. We suggest that female physiological state prior to laying, associated with incubation at the onset of laying, determines motivation to acquire extra-pair paternity independent of final clutch size. This decline in proportion of extra-pair offspring with clutch size may be a general pattern within bird species.