Are there correlates of male Australian Magpie Gymnorhina tibicen reproductive success in a population with high rates of extra-group paternity?
The reproductive success of a male bird is often correlated with measurable traits that predict his intrinsic quality. Females are thought to base their selection of mates on the latter's 'quality' in order to gain their 'good genes'. Male Australian Magpies Gymnorhina tibicen of the white-backed race tyrannica were trapped in two breeding seasons. Measurements were taken of morphometric and other characteristics in order to discover whether particular traits of males were associated with: (1) percentage of offspring sired in the territory, (2) number of fledglings produced in the territory per season and (3) whether females select males for their 'good genes'. There were no consistently significant correlations between any of the measured variables and male Magpie reproductive success within territories. In particular, none of the traits measured had any consistent correlation with the percentage of offspring sired in a territorial group. This was an unexpected result given that the species is strongly territorial but also engages regularly in extra-group copulations. These findings appear contrary to the predictions of the 'good genes' hypothesis. The general lack of correlation between the variables and level of genetic paternity may in fact be due to females engaging in extra-group mating primarily to avoid breeding with a close relative rather than to choose a high-quality male. In this case, males would not have to be 'high quality', but merely genetically different from the female's social mate.