Breaking the rules: Sex roles and genetic mating system of the pheasant coucal

G. Maurer*, M. C. Double, O. Milenkaya, M. Süsser, R. D. Magrath

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    11 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Generally in birds, the classic sex roles of male competition and female choice result in females providing most offspring care while males face uncertain parentage. In less than 5% of species, however, reversed courtship sex roles lead to predominantly male care and low extra-pair paternity. These role-reversed species usually have reversed sexual size dimorphism and polyandry, confirming that sexual selection acts most strongly on the sex with the smaller parental investment and accordingly higher potential reproductive rate. We used parentage analyses and observations from three field seasons to establish the social and genetic mating system of pheasant coucals, Centropus phasianinus, a tropical nesting cuckoo, where males are much smaller than females and provide most parental care. Pheasant coucals are socially monogamous and in this study males produced about 80% of calls in the dawn chorus, implying greater male sexual competition. Despite the substantial male investments, extra-pair paternity was unusually high for a socially monogamous, duetting species. Using two or more mismatches to determine extra-pair parentage, we found that 11 of 59 young (18.6%) in 10 of 21 broods (47.6%) were not sired by their putative father. Male incubation, starting early in the laying sequence, may give the female opportunity and reason to seek these extra-pair copulations. Monogamy, rather than the polyandry and sex-role reversal typical of its congener, C. grillii, may be the result of the large territory size, which could prevent females from monopolising multiple males. The pheasant coucal's exceptional combination of classic sex-roles and male-biased care for extra-pair young is hard to reconcile with current sexual selection theory, but may represent an intermediate stage in the evolution of polyandry or an evolutionary remnant of polyandry.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)413-425
    Number of pages13
    JournalOecologia
    Volume167
    Issue number2
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2011

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