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Sexual conflict over parental care in Penduline Tits Remiz pendulinus: the process of clutch desertion

Authors

  • RENÉ E. VAN DIJK,

    Corresponding author
    1. Animal Ecology Group, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, University of Groningen, Biological Centre, PO Box 14, 9750 AA Haren, The Netherlands
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  • ISTVÁN SZENTIRMAI,

    1. Department of Ethology, Eötvös Loránd University, Pázmány P. sétány 1./C, H-1117 Budapest, Hungary
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  • JAN KOMDEUR,

    1. Animal Ecology Group, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, University of Groningen, Biological Centre, PO Box 14, 9750 AA Haren, The Netherlands
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  • TAMÁS SZÉKELY

    1. Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath, Claverton Down, Bath BA2 7AY, UK
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  • Present addresses: Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath, Claverton Down, Bath BA2 7AY, UK; ‡Örsèg National Park, Siskaszer 26a, H-9941, Öriszentpéter, Hungary.

*Corresponding author. Email: R.E.van.Dijk@bath.ac.uk

Abstract

Do the two parents at a nest make simultaneous decisions whether to care for their offspring or to desert? If a single parent is sufficient for rearing young, one parent (typically, the male) may desert and reproduce with a new mate within the same breeding season, leaving the other parent with the brunt of care. As each parent is expected to maximize its own reproductive success, the interests of the two parents do not necessarily coincide, and a sexual conflict over care may emerge. Here we investigate the process of clutch desertion in a small passerine bird, the Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus. Among birds, this species has a remarkably variable breeding system, because a single parent (either the male or the female) may provide the full care of the young, whereas about 30% of clutches are abandoned by both parents. First, we show that biparental desertion occurs within a single day in 73.7% of the clutches (n = 14), whereas desertion decisions are sequential in 26.3% of the clutches (n = 5) (male first: 10.5% (n = 2); female first: 15.8% (n = 3); n = 19 clutches in total). Secondly, we observed the behaviour of both parents before desertion, and investigated whether desertion can be predicted from their behaviour. However, neither singing nor nest-building behaviour predicted whether the male or the female would desert. We therefore suggest that biparental desertion may be simultaneous by male and female in our population of Penduline Tits. Furthermore, the parents do not appear to signal their intention to desert their mate. We argue that the parents’ interest may be actually to disguise their intention to desert.

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