Group living, breeding behaviour and territoriality in the Subdesert Mesite Monias benschi
In 1997–2000 we studied a population of Subdesert Mesites Monias benschi consisting of 35–68 adults comprising 32 groups of two to nine birds (modal group size of four). The study population was significantly male-biased in 1999 but not in 1997 or 1998. Overall, both sexes were philopatric, but when dispersal (or eviction) occurred, it appeared to be female-biased. Over 40% of groups contained more than two adult males, whilst < 15% contained more than two adult females. Whilst there was no evidence of behavioural dominance by females, intrasexual aggression within groups was observed only amongst females. In contrast to other birds occupying the same habitat, breeding in mesites was not tied to rainfall, and occurred throughout the year. Each breeding unit constructed several nests every year, only one of which was used. All adult males and at least one adult female co-operated to raise one or two clutches of one or two eggs per year. Males and females contributed equally to incubation. Chick production and chick survival were not related to group size or territory size. Groups defended large, permanent, and multipurpose territories and all group members contributed to territory defence. Territory size was positively correlated with the number of males in groups, but not with overall group size. Territories were tightly packed with very few areas unoccupied. Transect surveys conducted throughout the narrow geographical range of this species revealed its presence in a range of semi-arid habitat types. Small groups were more likely to be detected in intact, high-stature forest, whilst large groups were more likely to be detected in low-stature forest containing numerous spiny, xerophytic trees Didierea madagascariensis.
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