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Age-related improvements in fecundity are driven by the male in a bird with partially reversed sex roles in parental care

Wiebe, Karen L.
Oecologia 2018 v.188 no.4 pp. 1095-1104
birds, clutch size, fecundity, females, fledglings, hatching, life history, males, prediction, reproductive performance
Age-related improvement in reproductive performance is widespread in vertebrates and constraints at young ages are a common cause. The sex that invests energetically more in reproduction, typically the female, is predicted to show stronger age-related performance but the effect of the male’s age on reproduction has often been ignored. I studied age-related reproduction of both sexes in northern flickers, in which males invest more parental care than females, predicting that the effect of age would be stronger in males than in females. Longitudinal data on individuals collected during an 18-year field study confirmed this prediction. Laying dates for females improved only between the first 2 years of her life and no other reproductive parameter changed over her lifetime when the male’s age was statistically controlled. In contrast, males improved up to age five for laying date, clutch size, hatching success and fledging success. Partner familiarity (fidelity) was further associated with earlier laying, larger clutches, improved fledging success and more fledglings. There was significant assortative pairing by age but there is apparently little benefit for males to choose older females, but a benefit to females with older males. Females appear to strategically lay larger clutches when paired to old males which invest more in paternal care than younger males. This is the first example of clutch size being influenced by only male age and not female age in any bird and suggests that sex roles in parental care are important determinants of aging patterns in vertebrates with diverse life histories.