• Conrad, Kelvin F.
  • Johnston, P. V.
  • Crossman, Christine
  • Kempenaers, Bart
  • Robertson, Raleigh J.
  • Wheelwright, Nathaniel T.
  • Boag, Peter T.


Molecular genetic studies have suggested that apparently nonbreeding males (‘floaters’) may account for a significant proportion of extra‐pair paternity (EPP) in avian populations. Attempts to determine the influence of breeding density on EPP are therefore confounded by the presence of a subpopulation of floaters whose numbers are difficult to estimate. To study EPP in a tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) population with few floaters, we chose a nestbox grid on an island with an excess of available breeding sites and very few floaters. We obtained DNA samples from 13 complete families and performed DNA profiling on them using four microsatellite loci. For comparison, we also obtained a sample of 58 extra‐pair young (EPY) from a mainland population typed at five microsatellite loci. Paternity assignments among resident males in both populations were made using the microsatellite profiles and a likelihood‐based statistical method. Of the 67 island nestlings typed, we found 37 (55%) nestlings from 11 (85%) different nests that were EPY. The proportion of nestlings that were EPY and the proportion of broods containing EPY did not differ significantly between island and mainland populations studied previously. There was no significant difference between island and mainland populations in the proportion of extra‐pair paternities assigned among neighbouring resident males. Male breeding density does not appear to affect the ability of female tree swallows to obtain extra‐pair fertilizations, at least over the range of densities studied so far. The rate of EPP has remained remarkably consistent over many years, studies and populations implying an important role of active female choice in determining EPP.