Predation risk is unlikely to account for the failure of subordinate speckled warblers Chthonicola sagittata to help at the nest

Janet Gardner

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The predator avoidance hypothesis suggests that the failure of subordinate birds to provision nestlings in communally breeding species is a consequence of increased predation risk. Parents exclude subordinates from the nest area and thus reduce the frequency of predator-attracting visits when the nest is most vulnerable, leading to increased reproductive success. I evaluated this hypothesis for the speckled warbler Chthonicola sagittata, a group-living member of the Pardalotidae in which subordinate males never feed nestlings or fledglings even though they are unrelated to the primary pair, compete for copulations and sometimes sire young in the brood. Parents did not modify provisioning behaviour relative to the risk of nest predation; provisioning rates to 10 d-old nestlings were similar on high and low risk territories. Furthermore, there was no evidence that parents modified the timing of deliveries or adjusted the relative size of deliveries in relation to predation risk. The condition (residual mass) of nestlings differed between high and low risk territories because nestlings on high risk territories had smaller tarsi but similar body mass to those at low risk. Tarsus length was the result of parental phenotype, not modified provisioning behaviour. Given that parents were unresponsive to predation risk, it seems unlikely that predation can account for the failure of subordinates to provision at the nest.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)443 - 449
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes

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