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The coal tit appears to live a strictly monogamous life. Couples often stay together for their whole lives. That's only a facade. This indigenous songbird is among the top ten two-timers worldwide. That is what research by biologists at the University of Bonn shows. For this they have taken genetic fingerprints from more than 200 breeding couples and their young. In this way they were able to identify the biological father in 90 per cent of the nestlings. According to this research older coal tit males were particularly successful at cheating on their partner. They produced significantly more 'cuckoo kids' than younger males. The results have now been published in the journal 'Behavioral Ecology' (doi: 10.1093/beheco/arm082)..
Germany's most researched population of coal tits lives in a coniferous forest in Lower Saxony, in Emsland, very near the town of Lingen, to be more precise. Dr. Wolfgang Winkel from the Institute of Ornithological Research (Instut fur Vogelforschung) at the Heligoland Ornithological Station has for decades been studying the coal tits that live here. Many of the birds are ringed, so that their exact age is known. 'It really is an exceptionally good set of data which we were able to access,' the Bonn evolutionary biologist Dr. Tim Schmoll explains.
In conjunction with his colleague Professor Thomas Lubjuhn he investigated how often coal tits cheat upon their spouses and what role their age plays in this. 'For this we did paternity tests on more than 200 breeding couples and their offspring in 2000 and 2001,' he explains. With the aid of a 'genetic fingerprint' the researchers were able to match the biological father to the nestlings in nine out of ten cases.
For coal tits are only monogamous on the surface. The partners often stay together for the rest of their life and Mum and Dad tak
|Contact: Tim Schmoll|
University of Bonn