Lifetime reproductive benefits of cooperative polygamy vary for males and females in the acorn woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)

Sahas Barve*, Christina Riehl, Eric L Walters, Joseph Haydock, Hannah L Dugdale, Walter D Koenig

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
18 Downloads (Pure)


Cooperative breeding strategies lead to short-term direct fitness losses when individuals forfeit or share reproduction. The direct fitness benefits of cooperative strategies are often delayed and difficult to quantify, requiring data on lifetime reproduction. Here, we use a longitudinal dataset to examine the lifetime reproductive success of cooperative polygamy in acorn woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus), which nest as lone pairs or share reproduction with same-sex cobreeders. We found that males and females produced fewer young per successful nesting attempt when sharing reproduction. However, males nesting in duos and trios had longer reproductive lifespans, more lifetime nesting attempts and higher lifetime reproductive success than those breeding alone. For females, cobreeding in duos increased reproductive lifespan so the lifetime reproductive success of females nesting in duos was comparable to those nesting alone and higher than those nesting in trios. These results suggest that for male duos and trios, reproductive success alone may provide sufficient fitness benefits to explain the presence of cooperative polygamy, and the benefits of cobreeding as a duo in females are higher than previously assumed. Lifetime individual fitness data are crucial to reveal the full costs and benefits of cooperative polygamy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20210579
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1957
Publication statusPublished - 25-Aug-2021


  • Animals
  • Birds
  • Breeding
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marriage
  • Reproduction

Cite this