Reproductive strategies of Arid-zone birds


Extra-Pair paternity and brood parasitism in Australian finches

Clockwise From Top Left: Natural habitat of the Zebra Finch in arid Australia, taken near the UNSW research station at Fowlers Gap.|  A pair of zebra finches. The male of the species (left) displays distinctive feather morphology on its throat, breast and cheeks.  | A clan of Apostle birds that exist as large family groups.|  The chestnut crowned babbler, another cooperatively breeding bird (Photos: Simon Griffith).

The zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) is a key model system used to study sexual selection and sperm competition. Most of this research has been conducted using captive zebra finch populations. However our study showed that the rate of extra-pair paternity is actually very low in this species under natural conditions (1.7% of 316 offspring from four of 80 broods fathered outside the pair bond). This suggests that high rates of extra-pair paternity in zebra finches may be an artefact of captivity and in fact the zebra finch may be one of the most genetically monogamous passerine birds. In addition, we found that 5.4% of 316 offspring were not related to either putative parent and hatched from eggs that had been dumped by intraspecific brood parasites. To extend this research we are also investigating extra-pair paternity and brood parasitism in other arid-zone species, such as the long-tailed finch (Poephila acuticauda).

Parental care strategies in two species of cooperatively breeding Australian birds

The apostlebird (Struthidea cinerea) and the chestnut-crowned babbler (Pomatostomus ruficeps) are two examples of arid-zone bird species that breed cooperatively. Both of these species form large social groups where “helpers” forgo personal reproduction and instead attend to the offspring of the groups’s single breeding pair. This ongoing project attempts to understand the evolution of such extreme levels of cooperation between individuals and will specifically address areas such as parental care, anti-predation behaviour, genetic relatedness and communication within and between groups.

Publications from this Investigation

1. van Rooij EP, Rollins LA, Holleley CE, Griffith SC. Incidence and distribution of extra-pair paternity is not related to ornament expression or genetic compatibility in a socially monogamous mutually ornamented estrildid finch. Submitted to Animal Behaviour. In Review.

2. Rollins LA, Browning L, Holleley CE, Savage J, Russell AF, Griffith SC. (2012). Building genetic networks using relatedness information: a novel approach for the estimation of dispersal and characterisation of group structure in social animals. Molecular Ecology 21: 1727–1740.

3. Griffith SC, Holleley CE, Mariette MM, Pryke SR, Svedin N (2010). Low level of extrapair parentage in wild zebra finches. Animal Behaviour 79: 261-264.

4. Rollins LA, Holleley CE, Wright J, Russell AF, Griffith SC (2010). Isolation and characterization of 12 polymorphic tetranucleotide microsatellite loci in the apostlebird (Struthidea cinerea). Conservation Genetics Resources 2: 229-231.

5. Holleley CE, Russel AF, Griffith SG (2009). Isolation and characterization of tetranucleotide microsatellite loci in the chestnut-crowned babbler (Pomatostomus ruficeps). Molecular Ecology Resources 9: 993-995.

Collaborators: Simon Griffith, Nina Svedin, Erica Van Rooij, Lee Ann Rollins.

Full list of all collaborators available here.

For more information about these ongoing projects lead by Simon Griffith, please visit: