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The Significance of Territory Size and Quality in the Mating Strategy of the Splendid Fairy-Wren

Michael Brooker and Ian Rowley
Journal of Animal Ecology
Vol. 64, No. 5 (Sep., 1995), pp. 614-627
DOI: 10.2307/5804
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/5804
Page Count: 14
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The Significance of Territory Size and Quality in the Mating Strategy of the Splendid Fairy-Wren
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Abstract

1. The role of territory in the splendid fairy-wren Malurus splendens was analysed using data from a long-term study of a wild population in which pairs were socially monogamous, even though more often than not mating was promiscuous. 2. Territory sizes varied both between family groups and within groups from 1 year to the next. Variation between groups was related to habitat quality, while variation within groups was related to the number of males in the group. Large territories shared common boundaries with more neighbours than did small territories. 3. The reproductive success of the group was positively related to both territory size and territory quality, although these variables had no effect on the survival of breeding females or adult males. 4. It is suggested that the frequency of extra-pair copulation (promiscuity) is a function of the age and status of the male, where a male can enhance his status by (i) acquiring his own territory and social partner, (ii) producing helpers who assist him by supplementing his parental and territorial duties and by helping to expand his territory, thereby (iii) allowing him the opportunity to gain access to females outside his group. This results in a variable mating strategy where young males, typically with small territories and no helpers, practise sexual monogamy, despite a high likelihood of cuckoldry, while older males, with large territories and many helpers, are promiscuous. 5. It is suggested that females maintain permanent social pairings because (i) this provides the safety of a permanent territory with exclusive use of resources for building nests and raising offspring, (ii) it provides at least one permanent assistant in raising offspring, and (iii) it provides a focal point where she can be found by the most competent neighbouring males. This allows the breeding female the choice of better matings than might be provided by her social partner.

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