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Familiarity breeds success: pairs that meet earlier experience increased breeding performance in a wild bird population

  • Culina, Antica1, 2
  • Firth, Josh A.2, 3
  • Hinde, Camilla A.2, 4
  • 1 Department of Animal Ecology, Netherlands Institute of Ecology, Wageningen
  • 2 Edward Grey Institute, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Oxford
  • 3 Merton College, University of Oxford, Oxford
  • 4 Behavioural Ecology Research Group, Department of Biology, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge
Published Article
Proceedings of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences
The Royal Society
Publication Date
Dec 23, 2020
DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2020.1554
PMID: 33352080
PMCID: PMC7779496
PubMed Central


In socially monogamous animals, including humans, pairs can meet and spend time together before they begin reproduction. However, the pre-breeding period has been challenging to study in natural populations, and thus remains largely unexplored. As such, our understanding of the benefits of mate familiarity is almost entirely limited to assessments of repeated breeding with a particular partner. Here, we used fine-scale tracking technology to gather 6 years of data on pre-breeding social associations of individually marked great tits in a wild population. We show that pairs which met earlier in the winter laid their eggs earlier in all years. Clutch size, number of hatched and fledged young, and hatching and fledging success were not influenced by parents' meeting time directly, but indirectly: earlier laying pairs had larger clutches (that also produce higher number of young), and higher hatching and fledging success. We did not detect a direct influence of the length of the initial pairing period on future mating decisions (stay with a partner or divorce). These findings suggest a selective advantage for a new pair to start associating earlier (or for individuals to mate with those they have known for longer). We call for more studies to explore the generality of fitness effects of pair familiarity prior to first breeding, and to elucidate the mechanisms underlying these effects.

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