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Copulations and Mate Guarding of the Spoonbill (Platalea Leucorodia)

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Copulatory behaviour and mate guarding of spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia) nesting at Doñana National Park (SW Spain) were studied during two breeding seasons. Pair copulations were most frequent during the prelaying phase of the female, with a peak on the day before the first egg was laid. Most of the paired males (60%, N = 25) and females (76%, N = 25) were involved in extra-pair copulation attempts (EPCA) and, overall, 19 per cent of the copulation attempts recorded were EPCAs, the targets being primarily paired females. A hypothesis about the optimization of the use of sperm production by paired males is proposed: males give most of their copulatory attention to their mates during the prelaying phase, the latters' uterovaginal sperm storage glands being in this way filled, and, once this is achieved, males turn their attention towards other females in prelaying phase. Devaluation of the sperm of competitors by means of high copulation frequency, optimization of the seasonal pattern of pair copulations, and intense mate guarding were the primary tactics employed by males in defence of their paternity. Considered that copulations are not completed without collaboration on the part of the female, their permissiveness towards EPCAs during the fertile period suggests advantages to females. Among the hypotheses on benefits of extra-pair copulations to female spoonbills, genetic quality of the offspring may be improved by this behaviour, and females may also benefit from the effects of intense nest vigilance by their mates.

Affiliations: 1: (Estación Biológica de Doñana, E-41013 Sevilla, Spain)

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