Frequency and types of alternative breeding strategies employed by nesting American black ducks in North Carolina

Philip Lavretsky, Amanda Hoyt, Vergie M. Musni, Doug Howell, Christopher K. Williams

Intro to the article By Dr Beck

Prof Dr Phil Lavretsky is a duck hunter; a scientist for Ducks Unlimited; and a sure shot on the issue of evolution, and molecular genetic analysis of the truth of avian phylogeny. He is the « go-to » duck hunter for Ducks Unlimited.


Although most birds are considered to be at least partially monogamous, molecular evidence continues to uncover that many species can have multiple sexual mates. Many species of Waterfowl (Order Anseriformes) consistently deploy alternative breeding strategies, and although cavity nesting species have been well studied, few attempts to understand rates of alternative breeding strategies exist in the Anatini tribe. Here, we assay mitochondrial DNA and thousands of nuclear markers across 20 broods of American black ducks (Anas rubripes; “black duck”) that included 19 females and 172 offspring to study population structure as well as types and rates of secondary breeding strategies in coastal North Carolina. First, we report high levels of relatedness among nesting black ducks and offspring and while 17 (of 19) females were of pure black duck descent, three were found to be black duck x mallard (A. platyrhynchos) hybrids. Next, we evaluated for mismatched mitochondrial DNA and paternity identities across each female’s clutch to determine types and frequency of alternative or secondary breeding strategies. Although we report that nest parasitism occurred in two nests, 37% (7 of 19) of the sampled nests were multi-paternal as a result of extra-pair copulation. In addition to being part of a mix of strategies used to increase fecundity by successfully breeding females, we posit nest densities providing easier alternative mate access for males also explains high rates of extra-pair copulation among our sampled black ducks. Ultimately, however, while some proportion of females of many species engage in forms of secondary breeding strategies, we conclude that the decision to do so appears to be seasonally flexible for each individual.

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