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Keywords:

  • breeding experience;
  • extra-pair mating;
  • genetic benefits;
  • genetic similarity;
  • polyandry

Abstract

Females often mate with several different males, which may promote sperm competition and increase offspring viability. However, the potential benefits of polyandry remain controversial, particularly in birds where recent reviews have suggested that females gain few genetic benefits from extra-pair mating. In tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor), we found that females with prior breeding experience had more sires per brood when paired to genetically similar social mates, and, among experienced females, broods with more sires had higher hatching success. Individual females breeding in two consecutive years also produced broods with more sires when they were more genetically similar to their mate. Thus, experienced females were able to avoid the costs of mating with a genetically similar social mate and realize fitness benefits from mating with a relatively large number of males. This is one of the first studies to show that female breeding experience influences polyandry and female fitness in a natural population of vertebrates. Our results suggest that the benefits of polyandry may only be clear when considering both the number of mates females acquire and their ability to modify the outcome of sexual conflict.