Population and Colony-Level Determinants of Tertiary Sex Ratio in the Declining Barn Swallow

Saino, Nicola; Romano, Maria; Rubolini, Diego; Caprioli, Manuela; Ambrosini, Roberto; Boncoraglio, Giuseppe; Canova, Luca
February 2013
PLoS ONE;Feb2013, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p1
Academic Journal
Sex ratio of adults (tertiary sex ratio, TSR) is a major feature of animal populations with consequences for their behaviour, genetic structure and viability. Spatial and temporal variation in TSR occurs within species but the mechanisms behind it are poorly understood. In this long-term study of a declining population of a socially monogamous, colonial, migratory bird, the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica), we first analyzed population-level variation in TSR ( = proportion of males) of yearlings at sexual maturation in relation to ecological conditions as gauged by annual survival rate of adults. TSR was male-biased both among yearlings and older individuals, but male bias of yearlings was more pronounced after years with larger decline in adult survival. Thus, male offspring were less susceptible to the adverse ecological conditions that cause increased mortality. Dispersal and settling site decisions can have major consequences on fitness via the effects of local TSR on mating and sperm competition. Breeding barn swallows are highly philopatric while natal dispersal is high and, together with mortality, is the main determinant of colony TSR. We thus also investigated the mechanisms of breeding colony choice by yearlings and found that TSR of new-settlers in a given colony and year was negatively predicted by TSR of returning, early arriving older individuals in that year, but not by overall TSR at the colony in the previous year. This suggests that in our male-biased population new-settler males respond to local TSR upon arrival to choose the sites with larger breeding opportunities. Hence, variation in ecological conditions as reflected by adult survival can shift the TSR of individuals recruiting into a local population, with potentially various demographic consequences. However, breeding site choice based on TSR tends to homogenize TSR at a population level likely by facilitating settling of dispersing males in colonies with less male-biased TSR.


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