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PLOS Science Wednesday: Hi Reddit, we’re Drs. Malika Ihle, Wolfgang Forstmeier and Prof. Bart Kempenaers, behavioural ecologists here to discuss the fitness benefits of love… in birds – Ask Us Anything
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Hi Reddit, I am Dr. Malika Ihle and I am currently a post doctorate researcher at the University of Sheffield in the UK. I conducted my PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (MPIO, Germany), under the great supervision of Dr. Wolfgang Forstmeier and Prof Bart Kempenaers, who will both be joining me today! Prof. Bart Kempenaers is the director of the MPIO and head of the Department of Behavioural Ecology and Evolutionary Genetics; Dr. Wolfgang Forstmeier is a researcher in this department, principal investigator of the evolution of sexual behaviour in zebra finches. We are all researching why and how female birds choose their partner, on what criteria, and also why some females are faithful to their partner while others are not. We recently published an article titled “The fitness benefits of mate choice for compatibility in a socially monogamous species” in PLOS Biology. We wanted to understand why female zebra finches differ in their mating preferences: do they pick compatible partners instead of high-quality ones? We compared the reproductive success of birds that bred with their chosen partner, to the fitness of birds that were forced to pair with the chosen partner of another bird. We found that individuals of chosen pairs had 37 percent more offspring than individuals of assigned pairs, not because they were genetically more compatible but because they were behaviourally more compatible: they were better at rearing chicks together. Individuals of chosen pairs were also more faithful to each other; females were more inclined to mate with their chosen partner, and males were more willing to invest into paternal care. Overall, it seems that each specific bird was, rather idiosyncratically, attracted and stimulated by their specific favourite mate, a phenomenon that some people might more commonly call love. In this case at least, ‘love’ did have fitness consequences. We will be answering your questions at 1pm EST (10am PST, 6pm UTC) – Ask Us Anything! Want to read about all the interesting results in an inspiring literary form? Read the synopsis written by PLOS Biology editor Roland Robert: “The fitness benefits of love”. Want to be able to explain the study to your friends, family or children? Read my PLOSAble article “Benefits of being choosy”.