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Ecological correlates of mate fidelity in two Arctic-breeding sandpipers

January 1, 2000

Monogamous birds exhibit considerable interspecific variation in rates of mate fidelity between years, but the reasons for this variation are still poorly understood. In a 4-year study carried out in western Alaska, mate-fidelity rates in Semipalmated Sandpipers (Calidris pusilla; mate fidelity was 47% among pairs where at least one mate returned and 94% among pairs where both mates returned) were substantially higher than in Western Sandpipers (Calidris mauri; 25 and 67%, respectively), despite the similar breeding biology of these sibling species. Divorce was not a response to nesting failure in Western Sandpipers, and mate change had no effect on the reproductive performance of either species. Nor were mate-fidelity rates related to differential rates of breeding dispersal, because the species did not differ in site fidelity. Reunited pairs and males that changed mates showed strong site tenacity, while females that changed mates moved farther. Differences in local survival rates or habitat are also unlikely to explain mate fidelity, since the two species did not differ in local survival rates, ϕ (Western Sandpipers: ϕ –hat = 0.57 ± 0.05 (mean ± SE), Semipalmated Sandpipers: ϕ –hat = 0.66 ± 0.06), and they bred in the same area, sometimes using the same nest cups. Although we were able to reject the above explanations, it was not possible to determine whether mate retention was lower in Western Sandpipers than in Semipalmated Sandpipers because of interspecific differences in mating tactics, time constraints imposed by migration distance, or a combination of these factors. Western Sandpipers exhibited greater sexual size dimorphism, but also migrated for shorter distances and tended to nest earlier and more asynchronously than Semipalmated Sandpipers. Finally, we show that conventional methods underestimate divorce rates, and interspecific comparisons may be biased if breeding-dispersal and recapture rates are not considered.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2000
Title Ecological correlates of mate fidelity in two Arctic-breeding sandpipers
DOI 10.1139/z00-146
Authors Brett K. Sandercock, David B. Lank, Richard B. Lanctot, Bart Kempenaers, Fred Cooke
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Canadian Journal of Zoology
Index ID 70181844
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center