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Keywords:

  • Australian magpie;
  • extra-group paternity;
  • microsatellites

Abstract

Breeding systems vary widely in birds, from monogamous pairs through to complex group systems where subordinates assist breeding individuals to rear young each season. The Australian magpie varies geographically both in plumage patterns and social organization. Some populations of both eastern and western plumage forms are plural breeders with group size varying from three to over 15 mature individuals. This study used variation at microsatellite loci to determine the level of extra-group paternity in a population of the western form near Perth in Western Australia. Extra-group paternity was the highest recorded for any bird species to date (82%) and indicates that few offspring within a territory are sired by the social partner of the female. In addition, the data indicated that nearly 10% of juveniles were not the genetic offspring of any female within their territory, suggesting some intraspecific brood parasitism. Taken together, these findings are remarkable considering the highly territorial nature of the species and the extent of territorial defence practised by all members of the group towards extra-group conspecifics during daylight hours.