Sex allocation in black-capped chickadees Poecile atricapilla

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Journal of Avian Biology





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Optimal sex allocation for individuals can be predicted from a number of different hypotheses. Fisherian models of sex allocation predict equal investment in males and females up to the end of parental care and predict brood compositions based on the relative costs of producing males and females. The Trivers-Wiliard hypothesis predicts that individual females should alter the sex ratio of their broods based on their own condition if it has a differential impact on the lifetime reproductive success of their sons and daughters. The Charnov model of sex allocation predicts that females should alter sex allocation based on paternal attributes that may differentially benefit sons versus daughters. Because females are the heterogametic sex in birds, many recent studies have focussed on primary sex ratio biases. In black-capped chickadees Poecile atricapilla, males are larger than females suggesting they may be more costly to raise than females. Female condition affects competitive ability in contests for mates, and thus may be related to variance in fecundity. Females prefer high-ranking males as both social and extrapair partners. These observations suggest that females might vary the sex ratio of their broods based on the predictions of any of the above models. Here, we report on the results of PCR based sex determination of 1093 nestlings in 175 broods sampled from 1992 to 2001. Population-wide, we found a mean brood sex ratio of 0.525 ± 0.016, with no significant deviation from a predicted binomial distribution. We found no effect of clutch size, female condition, hatch date, parental rank or paternity. Our results reject the idea that female black-capped chickadees systematically vary sex allocation in their broods.