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Social interactions among breeding Brünnich's Guillemots Uria lomvia suggest constraints in relation to offspring vulnerability


*Corresponding author.


Brünnich's Guillemots Uria lomvia are adapted to high-density breeding in large colonies on steep cliffs. Because they breed on narrow ledges, egg loss through dislodgement is an important cause of breeding failure. Fighting among breeders presumably raises the risk of accidental dislodgement. In this study, we investigated whether social behaviour among Brünnich's Guillemots shows any adaptations to reduce accidental egg loss by modifying behaviour during incubation. We found that the amount of aggression increased significantly at the time of hatching, perhaps in response to the reduced risk of breeding failure through dislodgement of a chick, compared with an egg. Allopreening followed an inverse trend, falling significantly after the day of hatch. This supports the hypothesis that allopreening is used to reduce aggressive interactions. At the same time, the frequency of allopreening was greatly increased on days when mosquitoes affected the birds, consistent with the hypothesis that allopreening is part of a defence strategy against ectoparasites.