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Life-history theory predicts that individuals should adjust their reproductive effort according to the expected fitness returns on investment. Because sexually selected male traits should provide honest information about male genetic or phenotypic quality, females may invest more when paired with attractive males. However, there is substantial disagreement in the literature whether such differential allocation is a general pattern. Using a comparative meta-regression approach, we show that female birds generally invest more into reproduction when paired with attractive males, both in terms of egg size and number as well as food provisioning. However, whereas females of species with bi-parental care tend to primarily increase the number of eggs when paired with attractive males, females of species with female-only care produce larger, but not more, eggs. These patterns may reflect adaptive differences in female allocation strategies arising from variation in the signal content of sexually selected male traits between systems of parental care. In contrast to reproductive effort, female allocation of immune-stimulants, anti-oxidants and androgens to the egg yolk was not consistently increased when mated to attractive males, which probably reflects the context-dependent costs and benefits of those yolk compounds to females and offspring.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Biol Sci

Publication Date





163 - 170


Animals, Bayes Theorem, Biological Evolution, Birds, Egg Yolk, Female, Genetic Fitness, Linear Models, Male, Models, Biological, Nesting Behavior, Ovum, Phylogeny, Reproduction, Sexual Behavior, Animal, Species Specificity