Female control in yellow-legged gulls: trading paternity assurance for food

Velando, A., 2004. Female control in yellow-legged gulls: trading paternity assurance for food. Animal Behaviour, 67(5), pp.899-907.


Females in many socially monogamous birds copulate hundreds of times more than necessary for fertilization, although little is known about the benefits of this excess. Females may not directly benefit from high copulation rates, but instead may exploit male interest in copulating to obtain benefits. In species with courtship feeding, females may trade copulations for food (immediate benefits hypothesis). I tested this hypothesis by analysing female behaviour during courtship in yellow-legged gulls, Larus cachinnans. Female gulls to some extent controlled sperm transfer, because they moved during copulation bouts, and this behaviour influenced the number of cloacal contacts per mounting that the male achieved. Female control was related to previous feeding by the male, and hence the male courtship feeding rate correlated with the cloacal contact rate. Males that give more food probably enhance their chances of fathering offspring. By analysing within-individual female behaviour, I also found that the number of cloacal contacts was higher when the male fed the female than when he did not, which indicates that female gulls followed a decision rule to resist copulation when food is not given. Overall, these results support the hypothesis that female gulls manipulate their mates to obtain food.

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