Breeding experience, alternative reproductive strategies and reproductive success in a captive colony of zebra finches

Male and female zebra finch at Fowler's Gap Research Station, New South Wales, Australia Photo credit: Nicole M. Baran

Male and female zebra finch at Fowler's Gap Research Station, New South Wales, Australia Photo credit: Nicole M. Baran

Nicole M. Baran and Elizabeth Adkins-Regan
Plos ONE
Vol. 9, No. 2 (February 2014), e89808

Abstract: Birds exhibit a remarkable diversity of different reproductive strategies both between and within species. Species such as the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) may evolve the flexible use of alternative reproductive strategies, as well as benefit from prior breeding experience, which allows them to adaptively respond to unpredictable environments. In birds, the flexible use of alternative reproductive strategies, such as extra-pair mating, has been reported to be associated with fast reproduction, high mortality and environmental variability. However, little is known about the role of previous breeding experience in the adaptive use of alternative reproductive strategies. Here we performed an in-depth study of reproductive outcomes in a population of domesticated zebra finches, testing the impact of prior breeding experience on the use of alternative reproductive strategies and reproductive success. We provide evidence that older females with prior breeding experience are quicker to initiate a clutch with a new partner and have increased success in chick rearing, even in a captive colony of zebra finches with minimal foraging demands. We also find evidence that the breeding experience of other females in the same social group influences reproductive investment by female zebra finches. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the use of alternative reproductive strategies in female zebra finches is associated with previous failed breeding attempts with the same pair partner. The results provide evidence that age and breeding experience play important roles in the flexible use of both facultative and adaptive reproductive strategies in female zebra finches.

Baran N.M. & Adkins-Regan E. (2014) Breeding experience, alternative reproductivestrategies and reproductive success in a captive colony of zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). PLoS ONE9(2): e89808. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/ journal.pone.0089808

Nicole M. Baran