Affairs happen-To whom? A study on extrapair paternity in common nightingales

Conny Landgraf*, Kerstin Wilhelm, Jutta Wirth, Michael Weiss, Silke Kipper

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Most birds engage in extrapair copulations despite great differences across and within species. Besides cost and benefit considerations of the two sex environmental factors have been found to alter mating strategies within or between populations and/or over time. For socially monogamous species, the main advantage that females might gain from mating with multiple males is probably increasing their offspring's genetic fitness. Since male (genetic) quality is mostly not directly measurable for female birds, (extrapair) mate choice is based on male secondary traits. In passerines male song is such a sexual ornament indicating male phenotypic and/or genetic quality and song repertoires seem to affect female mate choice in a number of species. Yet their role in extrapair mating behavior is not well understood. In this study, we investigated the proportion of extrapair paternity (EPP) in a population of common nightingales Luscinia megarhynchos. We found that EPP rate was rather high (21.5% of all offspring tested) for a species without sexual dimorphism and high levels of paternal care. Furthermore, the occurrence of EPP was strongly related to the spatial distribution of male territories with males settling in densely occupied areas having higher proportions of extrapair young within their own brood. Also, song repertoire size affected EPP: here larger repertoires of social mates were negatively related to the probability of being cuckolded. When directly comparing repertoires sizes of social and extrapair mates, extrapair mates tended to have larger repertoires. We finally discuss our results as a hint for a flexible mating strategy in nightingales where several factors-including ecological as well as male song features- need to be considered when studying reproductive behavior in monogamous species with complex song.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)421-431
JournalCurrent Zoology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Common nightingale
  • Direct fitness
  • Extrapair paternity
  • Luscinia megarhynchos
  • Repertoire size
  • Territorial settlement

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