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Winter associations predict social and extra-pair mating patterns in a wild songbird


Beck, Kristina; Farine, Damien; Kempenaers, Bart (2020), Winter associations predict social and extra-pair mating patterns in a wild songbird, Dryad, Dataset,


Despite decades of research, our understanding of the underlying causes of within-population variation in patterns of extra-pair paternity (EPP) remains limited. Previous studies have shown that extra-pair mating decisions are linked to both individual traits and ecological factors. Here, we examine whether social associations among individuals prior to breeding also shape mating patterns, specifically the occurrence of EPP, in a small songbird, the blue tit. We test whether associations during the non-breeding period predict (1) future social pairs, (2) breeding proximity, i.e. the distance between breeding individuals, and (3) the likelihood that individuals have extra-pair young together. Individuals that were more strongly associated (those that foraged more often together) during winter tended to nest closer together. This, by itself, predicts EPP patterns, because most extra-pair sires are close neighbours. However, even after controlling for spatial effects, female-male dyads with stronger social associations prior to breeding were more likely to have extra-pair young. Our findings reveal a carry-over from social associations into future mating decisions. Quantifying the long-term social environment of individuals and studying its dynamics is a promising approach to enhance our understanding of the process of (extra-) pair formation.