Seasonal sex allocation by Common Grackles? Revisiting a foundational study

J. Dylan Maddox, Patrick J Weatherhead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the general importance of replication in science, relatively few behavioral ecology studies are repeated. Here we repeat the seminal 1977 research of H. F. Howe, who found that the proportion of male nestlings at hatching in nests of Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) increased as the breeding season progressed. Howe interpreted this pattern as an adaptive response to changing food conditions that favored greater production of daughters (the sex less expensive to rear) when food was scarce and sons when food was more abundant. Using DNA-based sexing and larger samples, we found no evidence of nonrandom seasonal sex allocation and no evidence that sons were more vulnerable to starvation than daughters. These patterns also prevailed among renesting efforts late in the season, when starvation was extreme. Although there is no way to exclude the possibility that grackles employed different sex allocation tactics in the two studies, similarities in weather, habitat, nesting phenology, and starvation rates make it seem unlikely that ecological differences between our study and Howe's explain the disparate results, whereas failure of assumptions that Howe was unable to test seems more plausible. κ 2009 by the Ecological Society of America.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3190-3196
Number of pages7
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2009


  • Adaptive maternal strategy
  • Common Grackle
  • Nestling starvation
  • Quiscalus quiscula
  • Renesting
  • Sex allocation
  • Sexual size dimorphism
  • Study replication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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