The evolution of infertility: does hatching rate in birds coevolve with female polyandry?


 Edward H. Morrow, Department of Animal Ecology, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18D, SE-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden. Tel.: +46 18 4716486; fax: +46 18 4716484; e-mail:


Natural levels of infertility in many taxa are often remarkably high, amounting to a considerable fitness cost which one expects to be minimized by natural selection. Several mechanisms have been proposed as potential causes of infertility, including inbreeding depression, genetic incompatibilities and selfish genetic elements. Infertility may also be an inherent result of conflict over fertilization between the sexes in polyandrous species, either because too many sperm enter the egg or because of over-efficient barriers to such polyspermic fertilizations. We generated phylogenetic independent contrasts to examine the variation in hatching success for a maximum of 58 species of birds in relation to two measures of female polyandry. Hatching success varied enormously across species (range: 61–100%), with a mean of 12% of eggs failing to hatch, but was not related to either the rate of extrapair paternity or to relative testes size. Thus, the causes of this significant fitness cost remains unclear and merits further examination by evolutionary biologists.