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Abstract

In birds with biparental care, males and females often conflict over how much care to provide to their offspring and it may be substantially influenced by increased level of polygamy. In accordance with sexual conflict theory, males of socially polygynous bird species provide much less care to their nestlings than do males of most socially monogamous species. Most of previous studies, however, have used feeding behaviour as an index for variations in male parental care only. However, this may be skewed if polygynous males compensate for lower feeding assistance through the provision of other parental care such as protection of nests from predators. In this paper, we examine nest defence behaviour in the facultatively polygynous great reed warbler with respect to sex and type of social mating system. We recorded latency to the first arrival, distance from the predator and defensive reaction of each parent towards a human intruder. Socially polygynous males with two simultaneously active nests defended primary females’ nests less vigorously than socially monogamous males, whereas no differences were found between monogamous and primary females. Generally, however, they took a bigger role in nest defence than males in all cases. Our results support an idea that sexual conflict is driven by polygamy and that type of social mating system can influence nest defence behaviour of facultatively polygynous birds. This finding should be taken into consideration when studying nest defence parental care in polygynous mating systems.