High frequency of social polygyny reveals little costs for females in a songbird

Santoro, S., Fernández-Díaz, P., Canal, D., Camacho, C., Garamszegi, L. Z., Martínez-Padilla, J. & Potti, J. 2022. High frequency of social polygyny reveals little costs for females in a songbird. Scientific reports, 12: 1-10.

Mating system theory predicts that social polygyny—when one male forms pair bonds with two females—may evolve by female choice in species with biparental care. Females will accept a polygynous male if the benefit of mating with a male providing high-quality genes or rearing resources outweighs the cost of sharing mate assistance in parental care. Based on this rationale, we hypothesise that the population frequency of social polygyny (FSP) varies due to changes in mate sharing costs caused by changing environmental conditions. We predicted that: (1) polygamous females (i.e. mated with a polygynous male) pay a survival cost compared to monogamous females; (2) FSP would be higher in years with better rearing conditions and (3) the difference in survival rates between monogamous and polygamous females would be small following years with higher FSP. We tested these predictions using regression and multistate analyses of capture-recapture data of pied flycatchers, Ficedula hypoleuca, in central Spain collected over 26 years (1990–2016). Monogamous females had a higher mean survival rate than polygamous females (prediction 1), but there was no difference in survival between polygynous and monogamous males. In addition, FSP was positively associated with annual reproductive success (a proxy of the quality of rearing conditions—prediction 2). Finally, following years with high FSP, the survival of polygamous females was similar to that of monogamous females (prediction 3), while the chance of breeding in a polygamous state for 2 years in a row increased for both males and females. Our findings suggest that fluctuating environmental conditions may be a necessary but neglected aspect of understanding social polygyny mechanisms.

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