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Interspecific cross-fostering affects mate guarding behaviour in great tits (Parus major)

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Mate guarding is thought to decrease the likelihood of cuckoldry and, hence, increase the fitness of guarding males. Mate guarding is costly for males and must be traded off with other fitness-enhancing behaviours. Over several years, we have cross-fostered great tits (Parus major) to blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) and this experimental treatment has influenced the mate and rival recognition of cross-fostered birds. Here we show that cross-fostered great tit males mate guard their females less than do control great tits, regardless of whether the cross-fostered males were mated to great tit females or cross-fostered blue tit females. Cross-fostered great tit males sang more and interacted more frequently with blue tit males than did controls. Females paired to males of the two groups did not differ in the extent to which they initiated movements away from their mates. We conclude that the altered species-assortative behaviour resulting from interspecific cross-fostering influences mate guarding in great tit males, probably by cross-fostered males increasing investment in territorial behaviour at the expense of mate guarding, and/or by cross-fostered males mate guarding less due to a reduced affinity for their female. Such trade-offs may have a general significance for mate guarding species.

Affiliations: 1: University of Oslo, Department of Biology, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES), P.O. Box 1066, N-0316 Oslo, Norway

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