A method that was based on non-invasive sampling of genetic material was used to determine the rates of extra-pair paternity (EPP) and conspecific brood parasitism (CBP) in mallards. Maternal and offspring DNA were extracted from feathers in nest material and hatched eggshell membranes. Using 8 microsatelite loci, extra-pair offspring were detected in 48% of nests and accounted for 9.3% of all offspring. In addition, 10.1% of the offspring were confirmed to result from CBP, and 24% of all nests contained at least 1 offspring from CBP. Rates of conspecific nest parasitism were higher than those of related species, which might have been due to higher breeding densities at our study site. The incidence of EPP was distributed randomly (i.e. did not deviate from bionomial distribution) throughout the population, indicating that variations in pre-copulatory (e.g. female choice, mate guarding) or post-copulatory processes (e.g. sperm competition, cryptic female choice) do not affect the distribution of EPP among breeding pairs markedly. Yet, our data provide evidence of variation in the risk of being parasitized among breeding females. The occurrence of CBP and EPP was unaffected by the timing of the breeding attempt or breeding synchrony.
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