Extra-pair paternity and the opportunity for sexual selection in a socially monogamous bird (Dendroica petechia)

Stephen M. Yezerinac, Patrick J. Weatherhead, Peter T. Boag

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We used multi-locus DNA fingerprinting to characterise the genetic mating system of the socially monogamous yellow warbler (Dendroica petechia). Over 2 years there were no instances of brood parasitism, but 59% of families (n = 90) contained extrapair sired young and 37% of offspring (n = 355) were of extra-pair paternity. Most hypotheses for extra-pair mating in monogamous species assume a paternity benefit to extra-pair sires, and focus on the benefit(s) to females. However, the assumption of male benefit has been little tested. Among yellow warblers, known extra-pair sires were just as likely to be cuckolded as any male in the population, and there was at least one reciprocal exchange of extra-pair paternity. Nevertheless, among known extra-pair sires, the paternity gains from extra-pair paternity were, on average, greater than the losses in their own families. These results show there is a paternity benefit to certain males. However, the benefit is not absolute but relative and therefore more difficult to measure. The results also suggest that patterns of extra-pair fertilisation are not determined by female choice alone. Most confirmed extra-pair mates were territorial neighbours, but some resided as far as three territories apart, and greater spatial separation was implied in other cases. Thus, the opportunity for extra-pair mating is great. We estimate that as a result of extra-pair fertilisations, variance in male mating success is increased somewhere between 3-fold and 15-fold over that which would result from within-pair reproduction alone. These findings affirm the potential importance of extra-pair reproduction for sexual selection in monogamous species and they support earlier suggestions that extra-territorial forays by male yellow warblers are for the purpose of extra-pair mating.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-188
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • DNA fingerprinting
  • Extra-pair fertilisation
  • Mating systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


Dive into the research topics of 'Extra-pair paternity and the opportunity for sexual selection in a socially monogamous bird (Dendroica petechia)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this