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Females Paired with More Attractive Males Show Reduced Oxidative Damage: Possible Direct Benefits of Mate Choice in Pied Flycatchers



Direct benefits of female mate choice may concern female fertility and fecundity but also physiological status. In birds with biparental care, males may contribute to improve the condition and health of their pair-mates through help in constructing nests, incubation or incubation feeding and nestling provisioning. They may also reduce harassment of females by non-pair males. A consequence of these male activities could be expressed in terms of oxidative damage, which may depend on metabolic effort and social stress. Here, we have related male contribution to parental and territorial duties to female oxidative status in the pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca, a species where preferred males present darker dorsal plumage and, in Iberian populations, a large white forehead patch. Darker males were paired with females with high incubation attendance and reduced nestling provisioning rates, which may lead to reduced female exertion. These males owned nest boxes at which there were fewer visits by non-pair males. Although females paired with dark mates worked less hard, they were able to raise more fledglings. Female oxidative damage measured as malondialdehyde (MDA) level in plasma declined with increasing incubation attendance and male incubation feeding. Moreover, levels of MDA in females declined with both darkness of male dorsal plumage and male forehead patch size when controlling for female forehead patch size and male age. The effect of male plumage darkness was especially strong. Females paired with middle-aged males (2–3 yr) showed reduced levels of MDA compared with those paired with 1-yr-old and more than 3-yr-old males. Male age could not explain the effects of male attractiveness. Females paired with attractive males were more successful in reproduction while suffering reduced oxidative damage, possibly mediated by help during incubation and nestling rearing from their pair-mates. Although correlative, the evidence suggests direct benefits of females paired with more attractive males.