Flexibility in the parental effort of an Arctic-breeding seabird


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  • 1Parental investment strategies are considered to represent a trade-off between the benefits of investment in current offspring and costs to future reproduction. Due to their high residual reproductive value, long-lived organisms are predicted to be more reluctant to increase parental effort.
  • 2We tested the hypothesis that breeding little auks (Alle alle) have a fixed level of reproductive investment, and thus reduce parental effort when costs associated with reproduction increase.
  • 3To test this hypothesis we experimentally increased the flight costs of breeding little auks via feather clipping. In 2005 we examined changes in the condition of manipulated parents, of the mates of manipulated parents, and of their chick as direct measures of change in parental resource allocation between self-maintenance and current reproduction. In 2007 we increased sample sizes to determine whether there was a physiological cost (elevated corticosterone, CORT) associated with the manipulation.
  • 4We found that: (i) clipped birds and their mates lost more body mass than controls, but there was no difference in mass loss between members of a pair; (ii) clipped birds had higher CORT levels than control birds; (iii) there were no inter-annual differences in body mass and CORT levels between clipped individuals and their mates at recapture, and (iv) chicks with a clipped parent had lower peak and fledging mass, and higher CORT levels than control chicks in both years.
  • 5Contrary to our hypothesis, the reduction in body mass of partners to clipped birds suggests that little auks can increase parental effort to some extent. Nonetheless, the lower fledging mass and higher CORT of chicks with a clipped parent indicates provisioning rates may not have been fully maintained.
  • 6As predicted by life-history theory, there may be a threshold to the additional reproductive costs breeders will accept, with parents prioritizing self-maintenance over increased provisioning effort when foraging costs become too high.