No evidence for adjustment of sex allocation in relation to paternal ornamentation and paternity in barn swallows


  • N. SAINO,

    1. Dipartimento di Biologia, Sez. Zoologia Scienze Naturali, Università di Milano, Via Celoria 26, I-20133 Milano, Italy,,
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    1. Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala Biomedical Centre, Box 597, S-751 24 Uppsala, Sweden,,
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  • A. P. MØLLER

    1. Laboratoire d’Ecologie, CNRS URA 258, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, 7 quai St. Bernard, Case 237, F-75252 Paris Cedex 05, France
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N. Saino Fax: + 39 22362726; E-mail:


Sex allocation theory predicts that parents should adjust investment in sons and daughters according to relative fitness of differently sexed offspring. In species with female preference for highly ornamented males, one advantage potentially accruing to parents from investing more in sons of the most ornamented males is that male offspring will inherit characters ensuring sexual attractiveness or high-quality genes, if ornaments honestly reveal male genetic quality. Furthermore, in species where extra-pair fertilizations occur, offspring sired by an extra-pair male are expected to more frequently be male than those of the legitimate male if the latter is of lower quality than the extra-pair male. We investigated adjustment of sex ratio of offspring in relation to ornamentation of the extra-pair and the social mate of females by direct manipulation of tails of male barn swallows Hirundo rustica. Molecular sexing of the offspring was performed using the W chromosome-linked avian chromo-helicase-DNA-binding protein (CHD) gene while paternity assessment was conducted by typing of hypervariable microsatellite loci. Extra-pair offspring sex ratio was not affected by ornamentation of their biological fathers relative to the experimental ornamentation of the parental male. Experimental ornamentation of the parental males did not affect the sex ratio of nestlings in their broods. Female barn swallows might be unable to bias offspring sex ratio at hatching according to the quality of the biological father. Alternatively, fitness benefits in terms of sexual attractiveness of sons might be balanced by the cost of compensating for little parental care provided by highly ornamented parental males, if sons are more costly to rear than daughters, or the advantage of producing more daughters, if males with large ornaments contribute differentially more to the viability of daughters than sons.