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Age-related patterns of reproductive success in house sparrows Passer domesticus


  • Margret I. Hatch,

  • David F. Westneat

M. I. Hatch (correspondence) and D. F. Westneat, University of Kentucky, Dept. of Biology, 101 Morgan Building, Lexington, KY 40506-0225, USA. Present address of M. I. Hatch: Penn State Worthington Scranton, 120 Ridge View Drive, Dunmore, PA 18512, USA. E-mail:


A common life history pattern in many organisms is that reproductive success increases with age. We report a similar pattern in house sparrows Passer domesticus, older individuals performed better than yearlings for most measures of reproductive success. Older males and females began breeding earlier in a given season and fledged more young than their yearling counterparts. Individual males also fledged more young in their second breeding season than they did in their first, but individual females did not show consistent improvement in reproductive success from year one to two. A path analysis indicated that age in both sexes acted primarily through the timing of breeding; earlier nesters laid more eggs and hence fledged more young but did not have more nesting attempts. We tested whether the increased reproductive success with age arose from high quality individuals surviving to be older (selection hypothesis). In contrast to the main prediction of this hypothesis that reproductive success and survival should be positively related, we found that survival from one year of age to two years of age was negatively related to reproductive success in the first year for males and females combined. Additionally, individuals that survived to breed as two-year-olds did not differ in total young fledged in their first year from those that did not survive to their second season of breeding. Our results indicate that fledgling production increases with age due to improvements in timing of breeding, particularly in females, and not because of the loss of poor breeders or increased output. Mechanisms producing age-related differences in timing of breeding warrant further study.