Extra-pair reproduction is widely hypothesized to allow females to avoid inbreeding with related socially paired males. Consequently, numerous field studies have tested the key predictions that extra-pair offspring are less inbred than females' alternative within-pair offspring, and that the probability of extra-pair reproduction increases with a female's relatedness to her socially paired male. However, such studies rarely measure inbreeding or relatedness sufficiently precisely to detect subtle effects, or consider biases stemming from failure to observe inbred offspring that die during early development. Analyses of multigenerational song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) pedigree data showed that most females had opportunity to increase or decrease the coefficient of inbreeding of their offspring through extra-pair reproduction with neighboring males. In practice, observed extra-pair offspring had lower inbreeding coefficients than females' within-pair offspring on average, while the probability of extra-pair reproduction increased substantially with the coefficient of kinship between a female and her socially paired male. However, simulations showed that such effects could simply reflect bias stemming from inbreeding depression in early offspring survival. The null hypothesis that extra-pair reproduction is random with respect to kinship therefore cannot be definitively rejected in song sparrows, and existing general evidence that females avoid inbreeding through extra-pair reproduction requires reevaluation given such biases.
- Evolution, Molecular
- Models, Genetic
- Sexual Behavior, Animal
- Journal Article
- Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't