Density of potential mates has often been proposed to explain the enormous variation in extrapair paternity. However, density is often confounded by other ecological factors that might affect extrapair paternity in their own way. Furthermore, extrapair mating shows strong phylogenetic inertia, making both meaningful intra- and interspecific comparisons difficult. An extreme way to change density is through habitat fragmentation that reduces connectivity between territories. Recently, habitat connectivity was hypothesized to explain the surprising discovery of a virtually monogamous species among the world’s most unfaithful bird genus. The monogamous Malurus coronatus lives in narrow riparian strips that limit contact with neighbors to both extreme ends of territories, whereas Malurus species with high levels of extragroup paternity typically live in high-connected habitat in which they are surrounded by neighbors. Here, we test the habitat geometry hypothesis by comparing levels of extragroup paternity of Malurus elegans living in fragmented low-connected habitat and in high-connected habitat. We found that M. elegans does not have lower levels of extragroup paternity in low-connected habitat (68%) than in high-connected habitat (56% of offspring), indicating that connectivity does not limit opportunities for extragroup paternity. Furthermore, there was no evidence that females in low-connected habitat gained extragroup paternity further away or from less sires or that they were more likely to be closely related to their social mate. We conclude that behavioral plasticity in response to density-dependent cost and benefits of mating behavior does not explain intrageneric variation in extragroup paternity in Malurus. Furthermore, habitat fragmentation may not strongly affect inbreeding risk in this species.
Brouwer, L., Van de Pol, M., & Cockburn, A. (2014). Habitat geometry does not affect levels of extrapair paternity in an extremely unfaithful fairy-wren. Behavioral Ecology, 25(3), 531-537. https://doi.org/10.1093/beheco/aru010