Variable Social Mating System in the Sedge Warbler, Acrocephalus schoenobaenus


Department of Animal Ecology, Lund University, Ecology Building, 223 62 Lund, Sweden. E-mail:


We studied the mating system in a local population of colour-ringed sedge warblers in south Central Sweden in 1990–92. Of 58 territorial males, 59% were socially monogamous, 14% socially polygynous and 27% unpaired. Socially polygynous males in general paired with two females: the only exception was one male that formed pair bonds with three females. Among the males that formed a pair bond, 38% resumed singing after their first female had started egg-laying or incubation and 50% of the paired males that resumed singing succeeded in attracting a second female. Hence, despite a consistently male-biased sex ratio in the population a large proportion of the males tried to become polygynous and they were often successful. The frequency of extra-pair matings did not differ between monogamous and polygynous males. Of 47 breeding females, 6.4% were sequentially socially polyandrous. In two out of three cases, the females fed the young of their first broods until independence before initiating the second brood. In the third case the female deserted her newly fledged young and these were instead cared for by a neighbouring male. DNA fingerprinting revealed that this male had not sired any of these young. Each of the sequentially polyandrous females successfully raised both their broods, and their annual reproductive success was slightly higher than the average for the polygynous males. When the sequentially socially polyandrous females initiated their second brood, their primary male (in all cases polygynous males), cared for young in their secondary female's nest. In all cases, the sequentially polyandrous females formed second pair bonds with unpaired males that were close neighbors. This suggests that females switched pair male for their second brood to obtain a mate that was more likely to provide them with direct benefits (e.g. parental care).