Does habitat structural complexity influence the frequency of extra-pair paternity in birds?

Carlos Biagolini-Jr, David F. Westneat, Mercival R. Francisco

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Abstract: Several studies have suggested that vegetation structural complexity can influence the frequency of extra-pair copulations, especially by reducing mating-guarding efficiency. Here we investigate if habitat structural complexity affects broad patterns of extra-pair paternity (EPP) and extra-pair broods (proportion of nests presenting at least one extra-pair young—EPB), specifically testing the prediction that species living in habitats with denser vegetation would have a higher frequency of EPP or EPB. We reviewed studies reporting EPP and EPB levels and categorized structural complexity of vegetation for the study population into five habitat categories. Using both phylogenetic ANOVA and phylogenetic generalized least squares (PGLS), we found no significant effects in either EPP or EPB rates. Under the mating-guarding point of view, possible explanations for the lack of support are (i) trade-offs between the possibilities for females to escape from male surveillance and the difficulty to encounter neighbor extra-pair males by visual orientation in areas with dense vegetation; (ii) the predominance of passerine birds in most categories of vegetation complexity, which are small and agile, such that even less vegetated areas may allow extra-pair copulation to be concealed; (iii) environmental components other than vegetation, such as rocks and cliffs, also could provide concealment opportunities for extra-pair copulation; and (iv) the performance of predawn forays, when habitat complexity may play a weak role on guarding effectiveness. A macroecological understanding of EPP and EPB is a continuing challenge for understanding variation in avian mating systems. Our results contribute to improving the knowledge of the impact of habitat in sexual selection. Significance statement: Although a vast literature on avian extra-pair paternity (EPP) and its causes exists, the influence of a number of environmental parameters remains poorly addressed. One such parameter is habitat structural complexity. Scattered pieces of evidence from single-species studies have supported the idea that in more complex habitats, i.e., dense vegetation, extra-pair copulation (EPC) is facilitated by concealment opportunities. Here we provide a broad review on studies reporting EPP and EPB (proportion of nests presenting at least one extra-pair young) levels, and we classified study sites into five habitat categories, which were then compared. After controlling for phylogenetic effect, we found no significant effect. Possible explanations for the nonsignificance under a mating-guard perspective can involve trade-offs between the possibilities for females to escape from social surveillance and the difficulty to encounter neighbor extra-pair mates, the availability of habitat components other than vegetation providing concealment for EPC, and the use of strategies such as predawn forays to avoid mate-guarding consequences. Our results further expand the role of habitat in avian sexual selection.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by Fundação do Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo—FAPESP (#2014/15456-2 and #2013/21209-5). FAPESP is a public foundation, funded by the taxpayers of the State of São Paulo, Brazil. The grant proposals are peer-reviewed blindly by area researchers.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.


  • Cuckoldry
  • Extra-pair copulation
  • Infidelity
  • Mate system
  • Review
  • Social monogamy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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