Unfaithful female finches have their genes to thank

Kate Shaw

Birds are notoriously promiscuous; even species that are referred to as "monogamous" often indulge in extra affairs on the side. For males, the advantages of these extrapair copulations are obvious: more offspring with not a lot of extra effort. However, the benefits for females are less clear, since philandering females don’t generally lay more eggs or have higher-quality offspring, but they do risk predation and sexually transmitted diseases. So why do the females cheat?

A new study in PNAS set out to examine the two main theories behind this seemingly maladaptive behavior. One possible explanation is that the same behavioral mechanism controls both how females respond to their mate and how they respond to other potential suitors. If this is true, a female who is receptive to her own mate would also be receptive to other males, while one who rejected other males would be likely to reject her own mate. Under this scenario, receptive females would be at an evolutionary advantage, but they’d also be likely to cheat.

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