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Evolution of single-chick broods in the Swallow-tailed Gull Creagrus furcatus

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Swallow-tailed Gulls lay single-egg clutches, and so raise single-chick broods. As they are pelagic seabirds, this small brood size is expected to relate to proximate food limitation owing to infrequent food deliveries. However, a previous brood doubling experiment detected an 82% increase in fledging success from experimentally doubled broods compared to controls. We repeated the brood doubling experiment, and found that none of 50 enlarged broods produced more than one independent offspring. Control and experimental parents produced fledglings of similar body size, which also had indistinguishable rates of fledging and subsequent survival and reproduction. A variety of parameters estimating survival and breeding costs of reproduction showed no treatment effect. Since two-chick broods yield dramatically higher fledging rates at some times, apparently without excess costs of reproduction, selection on brood size appears to favour a two-chick brood. However, selection may not favour a two-egg clutch if egg production is very costly. Additionally, our estimates of reproductive success do not incorporate the performance of experimental and control offspring as adults, which could differ, since growth of chicks differed slightly by treatment.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2003-04-01

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