Mate guarding and frequent copulation in birds: A meta-analysis of their relationship to paternity and male phenotype

Anna M.F. Harts, Isobel Booksmythe, Michael D. Jennions

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


In many birds, males are presumed to protect their paternity by closely guarding their mate or copulating frequently with her. Both these costly behaviors are assumed to reduce the risk and/or intensity of sperm competition. However, despite many studies on avian extra-pair paternity, it remains unclear how strongly these behaviors are related to fitness and other key life-history traits. Here, we conduct meta-analyses to address two questions. First, are mate guarding and/or frequent copulation positively correlated with a male's share of paternity at his nest? We find a significant positive correlation between both presumed paternity protection behaviors and paternity share. The relationship is, however, weak (r = 0.08–0.23). This is perhaps unsurprising if the risk of partner infidelity, hence the need to protect paternity, varies among males. For example, more attractive males might have less need to protect their paternity. Second, do males with higher indices of so-called male “quality” (phenotypic measures, usually subjectively defined by researchers as predictors of male attractiveness) exhibit lower levels of paternity protection behavior? We find a negative correlation between male quality and paternity protection. This finding might partly explain the weak relationship between paternity protection and paternity, although we discuss other, nonmutually exclusive possibilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2789-2808
Number of pages20
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Copulation
  • guard
  • meta-analysis
  • paternity
  • quality

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