Multiple sexual pigments, assortative social pairing, and genetic paternity in the yellow warbler (Setophaga petechia)

Research paper by Andrea S. Grunst, Melissa L. Grunst

Indexed on: 24 Jun '14Published on: 24 Jun '14Published in: Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology


In socially monogamous species, extra-pair paternity may increase the reproductive success of highly ornamented males, mediating the evolution of sexual ornaments. However, ornaments may also attract social mates, and a tradeoff between extra-pair paternity (EPP) and within-pair paternity (WPP) may complicate mating strategies. Further, in many socially monogamous species, females are also ornamented, and the relationship between female ornamentation and patterns of EPP has been neglected. We investigated the patterns of genetic paternity with respect to carotenoid- and melanin-based pigmentation in yellow warblers (Setophaga petechia) of both sexes. We asked whether males face tradeoffs between EPP and WPP, how paternity patterns relate to carotenoid- versus melanin-based pigmentation, and whether less EPP occurs in broods when males and females are assortatively paired. Males faced a tradeoff between EPP and WPP. Moreover, non-additive relationships existed between paternity patterns and the two pigment types in both sexes. Males with high melanin coverage but dull carotenoid pigmentation achieved EPP but lost WPP, whereas males with high levels of both pigment types had high WPP but gained little EPP. A parallel pattern occurred in females. Warblers paired assortatively by pigmentation and EPP was less common in broods when the sexes were assortatively paired by carotenoid pigmentation. Results suggest that the most colorful birds obtain high quality social mates and advance reproductive success through WPP, show that correlations can arise between female ornamentation and patterns of EPP, and also uniquely suggest that social pairing patterns may influence extra-pair mating strategies.