Social monogamy has evolved multiple times and is particularly common in birds. However, it is not well understood why some species live in long‐lasting monogamous partnerships while others change mates between breeding attempts. Here, we investigate mate fidelity in a sequential polygamous shorebird, the snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus), a species in which both males and females may have several breeding attempts within a breeding season with the same or different mates. Using 6 years of data from a well‐monitored population in Bahía de Ceuta, Mexico, we investigated predictors and fitness implications of mate fidelity both within and between years. We show that in order to maximize reproductive success within a season, individuals divorce after successful nesting and re‐mate with the same partner after nest failure. Therefore, divorced plovers, counterintuitively, achieve higher reproductive success than individuals that retain their mate. We also show that different mating decisions between sexes predict different breeding dispersal patterns. Taken together, our findings imply that divorce is an adaptive strategy to improve reproductive success in a stochastic environment. Understanding mate fidelity is important for the evolution of monogamy and polygamy, and these mating behaviors have implications for reproductive success and population productivity.
- Charadrius nivosus
- breeding dispersal
- mate fidelity
- nesting success
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation