Mating strategies, parental investment and mutual ornamentation in Iberian Rock Sparrows (Petronia petronia)

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Relatively few bird species show complex social mating systems whose preponderance in a population is likely to affect the patterns of parental care observed there. In turn, parental investment is likely to be related to the expression of certain ornaments, which may reveal information on the bearer’s individual quality. Here we address both issues in a species characterised by several forms of parental care (both biparental and uniparental care) and in which both sexes possess a yellow breast patch, the rock sparrow (Petronia petronia). In our population, males contributed more to the care of the young in comparison with other populations. Social monogamy was the most frequent mating pattern and the percentage of cases of female (or male) brood desertion was lower with respect to that reported in previous studies, suggesting a flexible behaviour of this species to deal with different social environments. Birds did not pair assortatively with respect to the size of the yellow breast patch and we found no significant relationship between this trait and the frequency with which parents provisioned their chicks. However, we observed a positive relationship between male yellow patch size and nestling tarsus length, which suggests that more ornamented males are better parents. Males, but not females, differentially allocated parental investment in response to female ornamentation, although the benefits that males may gain from choosing more attractive females remain unidentified. Our results on paternal care investment along with previous studies on this species, reinforcing the view that the rock sparrow constitutes a good model to study sexual conflict over parental care under different social environments.

Mating strategies, parental investment and mutual ornamentation in Iberian Rock Sparrows (Petronia petronia)

in Behaviour

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Figures

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    Relationship between male tarsus length and calendar date in an Iberian population of rock sparrows.

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    Number of female visits to the nest without food delivery in relation to calendar date.

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    Male’s share of provisioning effort (proportion of provisioning visits to the nest by the male divided by the total number of visits by the male and the female) plotted against the size of the partner’s yellow patch. Only bi-parental nests (i.e., those in which both parents contributed to chick-rearing) were considered.

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    Offspring tarsus length at day 13 in relation to degree of ornamentation of the rearing father.

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    Parental care in three different populations of rock sparrows ((i) monogamous nests with bi-parental care, (ii) nests in which the male deserted the brood (female-only cared) and (iii) nest abandoned by the female (male-only cared)). Proportions for each locality were obtained from the bibliography (Italy-France: Griggio & Pilastro, 2007; Griggio & Venuto, 2007; Tibet: Li & Lu, 2012) and the authors’ own data (Spain). Only nests in which the authors performed direct behavioural observations were considered. Circular sectors indicate the relative contribution of each sex (female/male) to nestling provisioning in nests with bi-parental care in each population. The darker areas in the map denote the distribution range of this species (adapted from Cramp, 1998).

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