Divorce in Canada Geese (Branta canadensis): frequency, causes, and consequences
Keywords:Canada Geese, lifelong reproduction, mate fidelity, mate selection, monogamy, pair bonds
Most Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) form lifelong pair bonds (same-mate geese), but some pairs break apart and the geese mate with new partners while their former mates are still alive (divorcees). Over 25 years, we assessed lifelong reproduction of 160 collared Canada Geese that nested for multiple years in New Haven County, Connecticut. We examined whether same-mate geese and divorcee geese differed from each other prior to or after the divorce. Fifteen percent of females and 18% of males divorced during their lifetimes. Divorces were more frequent in pairs that produced fewer hatchlings during their prior nesting year. Most divorcees that nested again did so on their former nesting territories. Replacement partners of divorcees averaged younger and had fewer years of nesting experience than the divorcees’ prior mate. Usually after a divorce, one divorcee of each former pair nested immediately while the other skipped one or more years before nesting again. Under such circumstances, the partner able to nest immediately can increase its direct fitness by finding a new partner and nesting rather than foregoing the opportunity to nest that year. During their first nesting year after the divorce, the reproductive success of divorcees and same-mate geese were similar.
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