In birds with extrapair mating, older males usually have higher fertilization success than younger males. Two hypotheses can potentially explain this pattern: 1) females prefer older, and often more ornamented males, or 2) older males invest more in reproduction and fertility than younger males. Here we studied factors associated with age-related male fertilization success in a population of barn swallows Hirundo rustica in Canada. We document that male fertilization success increased gradually up to a minimum age of four-year old. The age effect was especially strong for the number of extrapair offspring obtained and the occurrence of a second brood. The higher fertilization success of older males was also associated with an early start of breeding in spring. The length of the elongated outermost tail feathers, a postulated male ornament preferred by females, also increased with age (in both sexes), but it was not a significant predictor of male fertilization success within age classes. Male fertility traits, especially testis size, but also sperm motility and sperm velocity, increased significantly across age groups. Our results suggest that the higher fertilization success by older males is due to their higher reproductive investments and that their longer tails are an adaptation to early arrival on the breeding grounds.
- University of Oslo
- Queen‘s University
- The Arctic University of Norway