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Extra-pair copulation in the greater white-fronted goose

January 1, 1989

Controlled experiments and quantitative field studies with both captive and wild waterfowl (Family Anatidae) have demonstrated that extra-pair copulations (EPCs, both forced and unforced) may be a viable alternative reproductive strategy for males (Mineau and Cooke 1979; Burns et al. 1980; Cheng et al. 1982, 1983; Afron 1985; Evarts and Williams 1987). In a review of EPCs in waterfowl, McKinney et al. (1983) stressed the need for additional information on the extent of such behavior in seemingly monogamous species of birds. Such information would increase our understanding of the extent of mixed reproductive strategies as formally hypothesized by Trivers (1972). Extra-pair copulations have been reported for only three of 22 (14%) species of geese and swans (Tribe Anserini), but are known to occur in 37 of 122 (30%) of the remaining species of waterfowl (McKinney et al. 1983, 1984; Welsh 1988). Socioecological differences between Anserini and most other anatids may provide insight into the evolution of extra-pair copulatory behavior, as male Anserini (unlike most other Anatidae) provide extensive parental care and maintain long-term pair bonds (Owen 1980, p. 76). Cuckolded male Anserini thus stand to lose more in the form of reproductive investment than other male anatids, which may invest less in a given clutch and generally have short-term pair bonds.

I describe here an observation of extra-pair copulation in wild Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons frontalis). The observation is significant not only because it augments our meager documentation of this behavior within the Anserini, but it is the first observation of such behavior in a noncolonial goose (Mineau and Cooke 1979, McKinney et al. 1983). The occurrence of EPC behavior in a dispersal-nesting goose is important, as proximity to potential mates has been hypothesized as a factor possibly selecting for EPC behavior in geese (McKinney et al. 1983) and other species of monogamous birds (Gladstone 1979, but see Westneat 1987).

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