Extra pair paternity in birds: A review of interspecific variation and adaptive function

Simon C. Griffith*, Ian P F Owens, Katherine A. Thuman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1155 Citations (Scopus)


The application of molecular genetic techniques has revolutionized our view of avian mating systems. Contrary to prior expectations, birds are only very rarely sexually monogamous, with 'extra-pair offspring' found in approximately 90% of species. Even among socially monogamous species, over 11% of offspring are, on average, the result of extra-pair paternity (EPP). Based on over 150 molecular genetic studies of EPP in birds, we review two topical areas: (i) ecological explanations for interspecific variation in the rate of EPP; and (ii) evidence bearing on the adaptive function of EPP. We highlight the remaining challenges of understanding the relative roles of genes and ecology in determining variation between taxa in the rate of extra paternity, and testing for differences between extra-pair offspring and those sired within-pair.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2195-2212
Number of pages18
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Avian breeding systems
  • Extra-pair paternity
  • Monogamy
  • Polygyny


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