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Open Access Open Badges Correspondence

Minisatellite mutation rates increase with extra-pair paternity among birds

Anders P Møller1* and José J Cuervo2

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratoire d'Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution, CNRS UMR 8079, Université Paris-Sud, Bâtiment 362, F-91405 Orsay Cedex, France

2 Estación Experimental de Zonas Áridas, CSIC, Calle General Segura 1, E-04001 Almería, Spain

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:100  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-100

Published: 14 May 2009



Amos [1] suggested recently that a previously reported positive relationship between minisatellite mutation rates and extra-pair paternity among species of birds [2] was confounded by transcription errors and selective inclusion of studies. Here we attempted to replicate the results reported by Amos [1], but also tested for the relationship by expanding the data base by including studies published after our original paper.


We were able to replicate the positive association between mutation rate and extra-pair paternity in birds, even after controlling statistically for the confounding effecs of mean number of bands scored, using 133 species, compared to 81 species in our first report [2]. We suggest that Amos [1] failed to reach a similar conclusion due to four different potential causes of bias. First, Amos [1] missed 15 studies from the literature that we were able to include. Second, he used estimates of mutation rates that were based on both within- and extra-pair offspring, although the latter will cause bias in estimates. Third, he made a number of transcription errors from the original publications for extra-pair paternity, mutation rates, number of novel bands, and mean number of bands scored per individual. Fourth, he included Vireo olivaceus although the mutation rate estimate was based on one single offspring!


There was a positive association between mutation rates and extra-pair paternity in birds, accounting for an intermediate effect size that explained 5–11% of the variance; estimates that are bound to be conservative due to many different causes of noise in the data. This result was robust to statistical control for potentially confounding variables, highlighting that it is important to base comparative studies on all available evidence, and that it is crucial to critically transcribe data while simultaneously checking published estimates for their correctness.