Male traits, mating tactics and reproductive success in the buff-breasted sandpiper, Tryngites subruficollis

Richard B. Lanctot, Patrick J. Weatherhead, Bart Kempenaers, Kim T. Scribner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Buff-breasted sandpipers use a variety of mating tactics to acquire mates, including remaining at a single lek for most of the breeding season, attending multiple leks during the season, displaying solitarily or displaying both on leks and solitarily. We found that differences in body size, body condition, fluctuating asymmetry scores, wing coloration, territory location and behaviour (attraction, solicitation and agonistic) did not explain the observed variation in mating tactics used by males. Which males abandoned versus returned to leks was also not related to morphology or behaviour, and there was no tendency for males to join leks that were larger or smaller than the lek they abandoned. These results suggest that male desertion of leks was not dependent on a male's characteristics nor on the size of the lek he was presently attending. Males did join leks with larger males than their previous lek, perhaps to mate with females attracted to these larger 'hotshot' males. Males at both leks and solitary sites successfully mated. Lek tenure did not affect mating success, although lekking males appeared to mate more frequently than solitary males. Courtship disruption and to a lesser extent, female mimicry, were effective at preventing females from mating at leks, and may offer a partial explanation for female mating off leks. Our analysis that combined all males together within a year (regardless of mating tactic) indicated that males that attended leks for longer periods of time and that had fewer wing spots were significantly more likely to mate. Given some evidence that wing spotting declines with age, and that females inspect male underwings during courtship, the latter result suggests that female choice may play some role in determining male success. We suggest that male buff-breasted sandpipers may use alternative mating tactics more readily than males in other 'classic' lek-breeding species because: (1) unpredictable breeding conditions in this species' high arctic breeding range leads to low lek stability, which in turn hinders mate selection mechanisms mediated by male dominance and female choice; and (2) males are not constrained by morphological markings that indicate status or sex. Both characteristics may reduce the reproductive benefits associated with males adopting one mating tactic and result in a sort of scramble competition in which males switch between tactics as local conditions change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)419-432
Number of pages14
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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

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