Male shrikes punish unfaithful females

Lesser Grey Shrike (Lanius minor) Science Article 2


The costs to females of participating in extrapair copulations is an interesting but hitherto neglected topic in behavioral ecology. An obvious potential cost to females is male physical sanctions. However, although retaliation and punishment by male partners has been proposed as a basic cost for female extrapair behavior in theory, it has not been experimentally demonstrated. We studied the breeding biology of the lesser gray shrike (Lanius minor) and combined field observations and a field experiment to show that (1) there is a high intrusion rate during the female’s fertile period, and extrapair copulations occur in this population; (2) by detaining females during the fertile phase, males were induced to retaliate physically against their partners, thereby increasing costs related to female extrapair behavior; and (3) there were no obvious costs to males of punishing their mates. DNA fingerprinting reveals that extrapair paternity is rare or absent in this population. Although we cannot conclude that monogamy at the genetic level is the result of male retaliation, we do show that male physical sanction is a cost that deceptive females have to assume. Males’ strategies based on coercion should be considered when explaining variation in extrapair paternity across species.

Francisco Valera, Herbert Hoi and Anton Kristin, Behav Ecol 14: 403-408 (2003)

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