The causes and implications of sex role diversity in shorebird breeding systems

Tamás Székely, Maria C. Carmona-Isunza, Noémie Engel, Naerhulan Halimubieke, William Jones, Vojtĕch Kubelka, Romy Rice, Claire E. Tanner, Zsófia Tóth, José O. Valdebenito, Kees Wanders, Grant C. McDonald

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Males and females often exhibit different behaviours during mate acquisition, pair-bonding and parenting, and a convenient label to characterize these behaviours is sex role. The diverse roles that male and female shorebirds (plovers, sandpipers and allies) exhibit in mating and parenting have played a key role in advancing mainstream theories in avian ecology and behavioural biology including sexual selection, sexual conflict and parental cooperation. Recent advances in shorebird research have also highlighted the significance of the social environment in driving sex role behaviours by linking the adult sex ratio with breeding behaviour and population demography. Here we review the key advances in sex role research using shorebirds as an ecological model system. We identify knowledge gaps and argue that shorebirds have untapped potential to accelerate diverse research fields including evolutionary genomics, movement ecology, social networks and environmental changes. Future studies of sex roles will benefit from individual-based monitoring using advanced tracking technologies, and from multi-team collaborations that are facilitated by standardized data collection methodologies across different species in the field. These advances will not only contribute to our understanding of reproductive strategies, but they will also have knock-on effects on predicting population resilience to environmental changes and on prioritizing species for conservation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-385
Number of pages29
Issue number2
Early online date2023
Publication statusPublished - 2024 Apr

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Evolutionary Biology

Free keywords

  • adult sex ratio
  • mating system
  • parental care
  • sexual conflict
  • sexual selection


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