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Old female reed buntings (Emberiza schoeniclus) increase extra-pair paternity in their broods when mated to young males

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In birds, females are generally assumed to determine whether extra-pair copulations occur, and thus most studies on extra-pair paternity (EPP) have focussed on female preference for male traits, whereas female traits have been largely neglected. However, the occurrence of EPP is likely to be a result of behavioural interactions (e.g., mate guarding by the social male and escaping mate guarding by the female), and may be related to individual experience, which is expected to increase with age. We investigated the effect of age on levels of EPP in reed buntings Emberiza schoeniclus, a socially monogamous passerine with extremely high levels of extra-pair young (more than 50% of offspring). In broods of older males the rate of cuckoldry declined, which is in agreement with our previous finding that older males are more successful, either through female choice or through male experience. In contrast, older females tended to increase the level of extra-pair paternity in their broods. When including the age of the partner, we found that young males, but not old males, were cuckolded more by old females than by young females. The increase in EPP with female age is not likely to be due to disassortative mating with respect to age, an increased capacity of older females to raise a brood without male help, nor a male preference for older females. With age, males nor females changed their share in parental effort. We suggest that with increase in age, females become more choosy when selecting the male that sires their offspring, or alternatively, become more experienced at circumventing paternity assurance tactics of young males.


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