Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 67, Issue 7, pp 1077–1087 | Cite as

Manipulating the perceived opportunity to cheat: an experimental test of the active roles of male and female zebra finches in mate guarding behavior

  • Leah C. WilsonEmail author
  • John P. Swaddle
Original Paper


Birds are commonly sexually promiscuous, which can lead to conflict between the sexes and the evolution of paternity assurance strategies, such as mate guarding. Adaptive explanations for mate guarding have tended to focus on fitness consequences for males, but mate guarding and participation in being guarded is also likely adaptive for females in certain contexts. To better understand the adaptive explanations for mate guarding as well as the observed variation in paternity patterns, it is necessary to explore the relative costs and benefits of guarding (and being guarded) from both the male and female perspective. To investigate these costs and benefits, we conducted an experiment with the Australian zebra finch (Teniopygia guttata) in which we independently varied the perceived opportunity for each member of a captive breeding pair to engage in extra-pair copulation (EPC) solicitation behavior; as an individual’s EPC opportunity increased, the partner’s EPC opportunity remained constant. Our results indicate that, for males, mate guarding intensity increases when their female’s EPC opportunity increases but decreases when their own (i.e., male) EPC opportunity increases. We did not find evidence of flexible female guarding behavior, but we found that females do not evade their partners more as female EPC opportunity increases.


Extra-pair copulation Extra-pair paternity Mate guarding Sexual selection Teniopygia guttata Zebra finch 



We thank Lydia Wright-Jackson for assistance with animal care and Tom Meijer for constructing the experimental chamber. We are grateful to Dan Cristol and Paul Heideman for their help and involvement throughout the project. This research was funded by grants from the Williamsburg Bird Club and The College of Arts and Sciences at The College of William & Mary to LCW, and the National Science Foundation UBM grant EF-0436318 to JPS.

Ethical standards

The experiments reported herein comply with the current laws of the USA.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material


(MPG 21026 kb)


(MPG 12032 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Integrative Bird Behavior Studies, Biology DepartmentCollege of William & MaryWilliamsburgUSA
  2. 2.Biology DepartmentIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

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