Mate switching and copulation behaviour in king penguins

Olsson, Olof; Bonnedahl, Jonas; Anker-Nilssen, Per. 2001 Mate switching and copulation behaviour in king penguins. Journal of Avian Biology, 32 (2). 139-145.

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Extra-pair paternity (EPP) in monogamous birds may result from either extra-pair copulations (EPCs) or mate switching. In this study of King Penguins in South Georgia, we observed no EPCs at all, an effect of very efficient mate guarding. Onshore males fast and need not divert attention to foraging or to defending nest or territory, as this species has neither. However, we found that mate switching was common. On average 38% (range: 29%–56%; three years pooled) of the birds established pair bonds with at least one initial partner before switching to the partner they bred with (i.e. the “pair mate”). Of the observed copulations of 44 studied females, 22% were with initial partners and 78% with the pair mate. This and the high proportion of mate switching suggest that roughly 10% of the females could have received sperm from males other than the pair mate. The average copulation frequency was 0.026 h−1, resulting in an estimated 8.2 copulations per clutch (which consists of one egg). That more copulations than necessary for fertilisation occur suggests that males try to protect paternity by sperm competition, and that this is a result of the potential for EPP due to mate switching in King Penguins. All observed copulations except one took place between days 13 and 5, with the peak 7.5 days prior to egg-laying. The birds found their pair mates (often not the same as in the previous year) on average about 10 days before egg-laying, and always established themselves at the outskirts of the colony about 8 days before egg-laying. Thus, most copulations occurred around the time the birds joined the colony. We suggest that it is adaptive to obtain a breeding spot early, because the colony will grow and pairs joining later will protect the offspring. Additionally, we suggest that early copulation outside the colony is adaptive because of the risk of failing to fertilise the egg when copulating among aggressive neighbours inside the dense colony. Based on these two arguments we suggest a “safe place hypothesis” to explain the early copulation peak in King Penguins.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: BAS Programmes > Pre 2000 programme
ISSN: 0908-8857
Date made live: 30 Oct 2012 14:34 +0 (UTC)

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