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Offspring sex ratios in tree swallows: females in better condition produce more sons


Linda A. Whittingham. Fax: +1 414 2293926; E-mail:


Organisms are expected to adjust the sex ratio of their offspring in relation to the relative fitness benefits of sons and daughters. We used a molecular sexing technique that amplifies an intron of the CHD1 gene in birds to examine the sex ratio at egg-laying in socially monogamous tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor). We examined all individuals in 40 broods (210 young), including all unhatched eggs and nestlings. Thus, the sex ratio we measured was the same as the sex ratio at laying. Overall, the mean sex ratio per brood (± SD) was biased significantly towards males (57 ± 2% male). Within broods, male-biased sex ratios were associated with females in better body condition, and these females were more likely to produce sons in better condition. Tree swallows have one of the highest known levels of extra-pair paternity in birds (38–76% extra-pair young), and, as a consequence, variance in male reproductive success is greater than that of females. Thus, in tree swallows, investment in sons has the potential for higher fitness returns than investment in daughters, assuming that sons in better condition have greater reproductive success.