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Keywords:

  • Ciconiiformes;
  • coloniality;
  • nest predation;
  • phylogenetic analyses;
  • static vs. dynamic aggregations

Abstract

Some studies have supported predation as a selective pressure contributing to the evolution of coloniality. However, evidence also exists that colonies attract predators, selecting against colonial breeding. Using comparative analyses, we tested the reduced predation hypothesis that individuals aggregate into colonies for protection, and the opposite hypothesis, that breeding aggregations increase predation risk. We used locational and physical characteristics of nests to estimate levels of species’ vulnerability to predation. We analysed the Ciconiiformes, a large avian order with the highest prevalence of coloniality, using Pagel's general method of comparative analysis for discrete variables. A common requirement of both hypotheses, that there is correlated evolution between coloniality and vulnerability to predation, was fulfilled in our data set of 363 species. The main predictions of the reduced predation hypothesis were not supported, namely that (1) solitary/vulnerable species are more prone to become colonial than solitary/protected species and (2) colonial/protected species are more likely to evolve towards vulnerability than solitary/protected species. In contrast, the main predictions of the increased predation hypothesis were supported, namely that colonial/vulnerable species are more prone (1) to become protected than solitary/vulnerable species and/or (2) to become solitary than colonial/protected species. This suggests that the colonial/vulnerable state is especially exposed to predation as coloniality may often attract predators rather than provide safety.