Extra-pair young in house wren broods are more likely to be male than female


The Royal Society


Sex-allocation theory predicts that females should preferentially produce offspring of the sex with greater fitness potential. In socially monogamous animal species, extra-pair mating often increases the variance in fitness of sons relative to daughters. Thus, in situations where offspring sired by a female's extra-pair mate(s) will typically have greater fitness potential than offspring sired by the within-pair mate, sex-allocation theory predicts that females will bias the sex of offspring sired by extra-pair mates towards male. We examined the relationship between offspring sex and paternity over six breeding seasons in an Illinois population of the house wren (Troglodytes aedon), a cavity-nesting songbird. Out of the 2345 nestlings that had both sex and paternity assigned, 350 (15%) were sired by extra-pair males. The sex ratio of extra-pair offspring, 0.534, was significantly greater than the sex ratio of within-pair offspring, 0.492, representing an increase of 8.5 per cent in the proportion of sons produced. To our knowledge, this is the first confirmed report of female birds increasing their production of sons in association with extra-pair fertilization. Our results are consistent with the oft-mentioned hypothesis that females engage in extra-pair mating to increase offspring quality.

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