Paternal age and offspring growth: Separating the intrinsic quality of young from rearing effects

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31 Citations (Scopus)


Younger individuals are often less successful in reproduction than older ones. This might be because of improving breeding skills with age or because the genetic quality of young or early maternal effects on them vary with parental age. However, no attempt has been made to experimentally separate these processes in vertebrates. We conducted a cross-fostering experiment in collared flycatchers (Ficedula albicollis) in three breeding seasons to disentangle origin- and rearing-related effects of paternal age on chick growth, while controlling for date-specific environmental conditions as well as differences in clutch and brood size. The age of the male at the nest of origin, but not that of the rearing male, had a year-dependent effect on nestling body mass and tarsus length. In two seasons, young of subadult males grew slower in the early linear phase of growth than young of adult males. There was no compensatory growth in the final asymptotic phase, so both body mass and tarsus length before fledging reflected the differential early development. In the remaining year, the age of the male at the nest of origin had no significant effect on chick growth. The environment-dependent origin effect we detected was unexplained by incubation times, hatching asynchrony, chick masses at swapping or previously described age-dependent egg quality patterns. Our results therefore suggest a genotype x environment interaction on the relative development of offspring sired by subadult and adult males. Our results also raise the possibility that female birds may gain genetic benefits by mating with older males. Further studies should identify general patterns of male age-dependent female mate choice and offspring quality in different environmental conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)672-682
Number of pages11
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2006


  • Genetic quality
  • Nestling growth
  • Parental age
  • Parental quality
  • Subadult plumage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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