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Parental care and brood division in a songbird, the black redstart

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Sexual conflict over parental care can be mediated through differences in male and female overall feeding rates, brood division or both. At present, it is not clear whether post-fledging brood division occurs due to sexual conflict over parental investment or is due to bi-parental cooperation, e.g. increase offspring fitness. We provide evidence suggesting that brood division in the black redstart, Phoenicurus ochruros is due to sexual conflict. Males and females had similar feeding contributions during the nestling stage, which is common for most passerine species. After fledging, each parent showed long-term feeding preferences for particular chicks within the brood. In most cases (74%; 17/23) both parents provided care but males tended to feed less fledglings than females did and in about a quarter of cases (26%; 6/23) females fed the whole brood by themselves. The relative amount of male to female post-fledging feedings showed a significant negative relationship with the proportion of fledglings cared for exclusively by the male. These results suggest (1) a close link between the amount of parental care and brood division; (2) sexual conflict can be mediated through brood division; (3) female redstarts appear to loose this conflict more often than male redstarts, with in the extreme cases males showing post-fledging brood desertion. A literature review shows brood division to occur in at least a dozen of songbird species but male black redstarts have the lowest relative post-fledging parental investment, expressed either as feeding rates or number of chicks in care.


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