ScienceShot: It Pays to Stay Up All Night

Wolfgang Forstmeier/MPIO

Sometimes it pays to pull an all-nighter. Researchers have shown that by sacrificing sleep, male sandpipers (Calidris melanotos) out-compete their rested counterparts for mates. To make the discovery, scientists caught almost all of the males and a few females from a population of sandpipers living on the Arctic tundra. They fitted the animals with brain activity monitors to track their sleep and GPS-like tags to follow how many different females they mated with. During the birds' 3-week breeding period, males stayed awake between 55% and 95% of the time. Those that dozed the least performed more courtship displays, such as dancing, for females. They were also more likely to sire offspring. Males that got almost no sleep fathered at least eight baby sandpipers, while those that slept for up to 55% of the time were lucky to father one, the team reports online today in Science. The researchers suspect that a genetic trait may make some males more able to forgo sleep than others, and this trait might be one that females look for in a good mate. Regardless of the reason, the early bird may get the worm, but the one that stays up all night gets all the action.

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