The role of male nest building in post-mating sexual selection in the monogamous red-necked grebe
In monogamous birds, early male parental effort, such as nest building, may serve as a post-mating sexually-selected display allowing female assessment of male quality. We examined the functional significance of male nest building and the potential role of nest size as a sexually-selected signal in the red-necked grebe (Podiceps grisegena), a species with high mate fidelity. Time-activity budgets showed that no behaviour was performed exclusively by one sex in the pre-laying period, but males spent significantly more time nest building and were more often involved in aggressive intra- and interspecific interactions. Nest building in pairs attempting a second brood was also performed predominantly by males. Greater participation in nest construction by males allowed females to allocate more time to self-maintenance activities in the period prior to egg-laying. The positive relationship found between the relative contribution of males to nest building and later to brood provisioning indicates that male nest building is an honest indicator of future paternal effort. Males obtained copulations solicited by females proportionally to the time spent on nest building, and the extent of male participation in nest construction was of importance for explaining variation in clutch size. Nest size itself is not very likely to be sexually selected in red-necked grebes, as it was found to depend on nest site conditions such as water depth and exposure to wave action. We suggest that greater investment of males in energetically demanding pre-laying activities is functionally similar to post-mating courtship feeding; it constitutes males’ indirect contribution to clutch production and may help to negotiate the relative investment each sex makes in the different stages of the breeding cycle. The results support the idea that, in monogamous birds, naturally selected male characters related to parental care may evolve into important sexual signals to females, although not into extreme displays.