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Can changes in provisioning by parent birds account for seasonally declining patterns of offspring recruitment?

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Declining reproductive success among individuals that breed later in the season occurs in numerous taxa and is particularly well-documented in birds. Principal ideas advanced to explain this pattern, the date and parental quality hypotheses, consider the ultimate causes of this phenomenon and have received much attention; however, proximate mechanisms have not been clearly elucidated. Parental provisioning could mediate a seasonal decline in nestling fitness. We delayed hatch dates and manipulated brood sizes of Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor (Vieillot, 1808)) to assess the ability of parents to compensate for deteriorating environmental conditions and increased demands of more chicks. We measured provisioning rates using audio recordings of nestlings begging. Brood size was the best predictor of provisioning frequency, with parents feeding larger broods more frequently than smaller ones. Delayed hatching did not reduce provisioning rate despite declining food abundance. Date and food abundance were unrelated to provisioning rate, suggesting no seasonal change in the quantity of food nestlings receive. However, provisioning frequency was informative about life-history strategies of Tree Swallows, showing that late breeders incurred the costs of deteriorating environmental conditions rather than passing these costs on to their offspring.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, 112 Science Place, Saskatoon, SK S7N 5E2, Canada. 2: Prairie and Northern Wildlife Research Centre, Environment Canada, 115 Perimeter Road, Saskatoon, SK S7N 0X4, Canada 3: Ecosystem Science and Management, University of Northern British Columbia, 3333 University Way, Prince George, BC V2N 4Z9, Canada.

Publication date: October 16, 2011

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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