Understanding the variability of mating systems is central in the study of animal behaviour. The advent of genetic techniques allowed combining social and genetic data, providing a more comprehensive view of reproductive strategies. In obligate avian brood parasites, the lack of constraints derived from offspring care allows for great plasticity of the mating system in response to changes in socio-ecological conditions. This potential for intraspecific variation makes brood parasites ideal model species to investigate the evolution of reproductive behaviour. We simultaneously studied for the first time social and genetic patterns of reproduction of the Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius, combining radio-tracking and behavioural observations in the field with genetic parentage analyses. Our results reveal that loose pair bonds can be maintained in this species despite high levels of genetic polygamy and lack of territoriality, possibly because of the need of intra-pair cooperation for finding and parasitising the nests of its large hosts: the Carrion Crow Corvus corone and the Eurasian Magpie Pica pica. We also found that cuckoos mostly ranged around suitable foraging grounds, but females moved larger distances to find host nests to parasitise. Comparison of our results with previous reports on different populations also suggests a plasticity of Great Spotted Cuckoo territorial behaviour that may depend on population density, host choice and distribution of host nests.—Bolopo, D., Roncalli, G., Canestrari, D. & Baglione, V. (2020). Cheating cheaters: social monogamy but genetic polygamy in a brood parasite. Ardeola, 67: 39-56.
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Vol. 67 • No. 1