Superiority of extra-pair offspring: maternal but not genetic effects as revealed by a mixed cross-fostering design



    1. Museum of Natural History, nám. Republiky 5, 771 73 Olomouc, Czech Republic
    2. Department of Zoology and Laboratory of Ornithology, Faculty of Science, Palacký University, tř. Svobody 26, 771 46 Olomouc, Czech Republic
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    1. Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague, Viničná 7, 128 44 Praha, Czech Republic
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Miloš Krist, Fax: +420 585 222 743; E-mails:,


Extra-pair copulations (EPC) are the rule rather than an exception in socially monogamous birds, but despite widespread occurrences, the benefits of female infidelity remain elusive. Most attention has been paid to the possibility that females gain genetic benefits from EPC, and fitness comparisons between maternal half-siblings are considered to be a defining test of this hypothesis. Recently, it was shown that these comparisons may be confounded by within-brood maternal effects where one such effect may be the distribution of half-siblings in the laying order. However, this possibility is difficult to study as it would be necessary to detect the egg from which each chick hatched. In this study, we used a new approach for egg-chick assignment and cross-fostered eggs on an individual basis among a set of nests of the collared flycatcher Ficedula albicollis. After hatching, chicks were ascribed to mothers and therefore to individual eggs by molecular genetic methods. Extra-pair young predominated early in the laying order. Under natural conditions, this should give them a competitive advantage over their half-siblings, mediated by hatching asynchrony. However, we experimentally synchronized hatching, and after this treatment, extra-pair young did not outperform within-pair young in any studied trait including survival up to recruitment and several indicators of reproductive success and attractiveness. We obtained only modest sample sizes for the last two traits and did not test for extra-pair success of male offspring. Thus, we cannot exclude the possibility of advantages of extra-pair young during the adult phase of life. However, our data tentatively suggest that the more likely reason for females’ EPCs is the insurance against the infertility of a social mate.