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Behavioural roles in booby mate switching

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The behaviour that mediates divorce and partner change in socially monogamous species is largely unstudied and unknown, although roles and adaptive functions in some birds have been inferred from breeding outcomes, partial behavioural records and captive studies. Here, roles and functions of natural within-season mate switching of a colonial bird were characterized by describing interactions over many days during the whole daylight period. Switching occurred in 5.9% of blue-footed booby pairs and was initiated by desertion of males or, less commonly, females. Three male desertions were consistent with either the Errors of Mate Choice or Incompatibility hypotheses but were better explained by our new Unfaithful Mate hypothesis because infidelity of the mate preceded desertion. Another two male desertions were more consistent with the Better Options hypothesis because the males switched to their ongoing extra-pair (EP) partners. One female desertion was consistent with the Errors of Mate choice or Incompatibility hypotheses, and another with the Better Options hypothesis. All five deserted females switched promptly to their EP partners. Thus, most switches consisted of (1) males replacing a possibly unsatisfactory partner with a new (already identified or to be identified) partner, or (2) deserted females pairing with their EP partners.

Affiliations: 1: aINBIOTECA, Universidad Veracruzana, Av de las Culturas Veracruzanas 101, Col. E. Zapata, C.P. 91090, Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico; 2: bDepartamento de Ecología, Centro de Investigación en Biodiversidad y Conservación Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos, C.P. 62209, Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico; 3: cDepartamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, AP 70-275, C.P. 04510, D.F., Mexico


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