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Promiscuous Finches

July 13, 2011

Promiscuity-related genes in finches may exist to exist solely to benefit males.



Infidelity genes…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Like humans, birds called zebra finches are socially monogamous – but sometimes stray. For males, philandering makes sense, since they can sire unlimited offspring. But females can lay only so many eggs, and need stable partners to help raise the chicks. Now, behavioral ecologist Wolfgang Forstmeier and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany may have explained why the females cheat anyway. Forstmeier’s team found that the same genes promote promiscuity in both male and female finches.

WOLFGANG FORSTMEIER (Max Planck Institute for Ornithology):

So it kind of changes the view how we see female promiscuity – in the past, people havd said it has to be adaptive, otherwise it shouldn’t exist. And now you can say, well, it may as well be maladaptive, because they inherit this predisposition from their fathers.


He says the genes’ benefit to males could simply outweigh their cost to females. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.