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The secrets behind male success

For wild populations, evolutionary success and survival largely depends on variation. Male paternity success is a key component of male fitness, and EU researchers investigated the diverse forces that drive and constrain this resource.
The secrets behind male success
The PATSUCCESS (Physiological and genetic drivers of male paternity success) project studied the song sparrow, Melospiza melodia. Working with 20 years of paternity and pedigree data to draw upon, the researchers backed up classic field studies with state-of-the-art genetic analysis.

Research results showed that both within-pair and extra-pair reproductive success are genetically inherited, so a major part of a male's fitness has room to evolve. Furthermore, these two components are synergistically linked. There is also an important genetic link between the liability of female extra-pair reproduction and the male liability for within-pair paternity success.

Looking at the past data for inbreeding effects, there was a negative effect on extra-pair reproductive success but not on within-pair. Significantly, there was substantial variation in male gamete performance such as sperm swimming speed and longevity, but no effects from inbreeding. This indicates that any depression detected may stem from other fitness-related traits.

PATSUCCESS researchers developed a new decomposition tool to break down the substantial variance seen in male extra-pair reproductive success. Results showed the source is post-mating paternity success, which is genetically inherited.

Interestingly, the researchers found that physiological stress in 350 song sparrows had low heritability and therefore a correspondingly low probability of affecting life-history evolution. The data also showed inbreeding depression that was environment-dependent.

Several papers have been submitted to and/or published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, Journal of Animal Ecology and Functional Ecology. The work could have significant impact on research generally into wild animal populations and conservation ecology.

Related information


Evolutionary success, male paternity, song sparrow, reproductive success, inbreeding
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