Molecular evidence of extra-pair paternity and intraspecific brood parasitism by the Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus)


Molecular studies have shown that, although most avian species are socially monogamous, they can exhibit different reproductive strategies, such as extra-pair paternity (EPP) and intraspecific brood parasitism (IBP). We investigated the genetic mating system of the Magellanic Penguin, Spheniscus magellanicus, a species that is reported to be monogamous, with little or no evidence of extra-pair paternity, high partner faithfulness over the years and intense biparental care. Thus, we proposed that if EPP does occur, the rate will be low and could be related to increased genetic diversity among offspring or the body condition of parents. As a consequence, we hypothesize that offspring from EPP will exhibit faster growth than non-EPP offspring, thus increasing their survival probability. In contrast to expectations, EPP was detected in 31% of the offspring and 48% of the nests had at least one extra-pair young. In addition, 6% of chicks were not the offspring of the putative mother or either member of the social pair, indicating evidence of IBP. However, we did not find a difference in genetic diversity between nests with or without EPP, nor did we find differences in parent body condition. Offspring from EPP showed slightly faster growth than non-EPP offspring, although this difference was not statistically significant. These results reveal a high rate of EPP and a low rate of IBP, both of which were previously unknown for this species. Our findings demonstrate that the Magellanic penguin has a more complex social mating system than previously thought.


Molekularer Nachweis von Fremdvaterschaft und innerartlichem Brutparasitismus bei Magellan-Pinguinen ( Spheniscus magellanicus )

Molekulare Studien haben gezeigt, dass, obwohl die meisten Vogelarten sozial monogam leben, sie dennoch verschiedene Reproduktionsstrategien verfolgen können, wie beispielsweise Vaterschaften außerhalb der Paarbindung (extra-pair paternity EPP) oder intraspezifischer Brutparasitismus (IBP). Wir untersuchten das genetische Paarungssystem von Magellan-Pinguinen Spheniscus magellanicus , eine Art, die als monogam gilt, mit wenigen Nachweisen von Fremdvaterschaften, hoher Partnertreue über Jahre hinweg und einer intensiven Brutpflege durch beide Elterntiere. Daher nahmen wir an, dass, wenn EPP auftritt, die Rate gering sein wird und zusammenhängen könnte mit einer erhöhten genetischen Diversität unter den Nachkommen oder der Körperkondition der Eltern. Folglich stellten wir die These auf, dass Nachkommen aus Fremdvaterschaften ein schnelleres Wachstum zeigen und damit ihre Überlebenswahrscheinlichkeit erhöhen. Im Gegensatz zu den Erwartungen wurden Fremdvaterschaften in 31% der Nachkommen nachgewiesen. In 48% der Nester befand sich mindestens ein Jungvogel mit fremdem Vater. Darüber hinaus waren 6% der Küken nicht die Nachkommen der mutmaßlichen Mutter oder von keinem der beiden Brutpartner, der Beleg für IBP. Wir konnten jedoch keinen Unterschied in der genetischen Diversität zwischen Nestern mit und ohne EPP finden, noch fanden wir Unterschiede in der elterlichen Körperkondition. Die Nachkommen aus Fremdvaterschaften zeigten ein etwas schnelleres Wachstum als der leibliche Nachwuchs, wobei der Unterschied statistisch nicht signifikant war. Die Ergebnisse belegen einen hohen Anteil an EPP und einen niedrigen IBP-Anteil. Beide Strategien waren zuvor bei dieser Art nicht bekannt. Unsere Studie zeigt, dass Magellan-Pinguine ein weitaus komplexeres soziales Paarungssystem haben als zuvor bekannt war.

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We thank Erik Wild for his English language review and comments on the draft. We appreciate the improvements in English usage made by Peter Lowther through the Association of Field Ornithologists’ program of editorial assistance. We are grateful to the Frere team for helping with field work, and the Laboratory of Biodiversity and Molecular Evolution of UFMG for support with MEGABASE. This study was financed by the National Counsel of Technological and Scientific Development of Brazil (CNPq 482264/2012-8); Coordination for the improvement of higher Educational personal (CAPES) provided a fellowship to ACMM. We thank anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on the previous draft of this manuscript.


This research was supported by Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (Grant CNPq 482264/2012-8) and Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior.

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Correspondence to Gisele Pires de Mendonça Dantas.

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Marasco, A.C.M., Morgante, J.S., Barrionuevo, M. et al. Molecular evidence of extra-pair paternity and intraspecific brood parasitism by the Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus). J Ornithol 161, 125–135 (2020).

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  • Microsatellites
  • Body condition
  • Sex ratio
  • Extra-pair copulation
  • Genetic diversity