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Abstract

The protector-species hypothesis explains mixed-species coloniality on the basis of benefits individuals of a species may receive by nesting with another species, the ‘protector’ species, that responds aggressively to potential threats. The reactions of nesting individuals to both natural and model predators were observed to determine whether black skimmers (Rhynchops niger) gain an antipredator advantage by nesting with gull-billed terns (Sterna nilotica). Observations of natural predators were gathered from three mixed-species and three single-species (black skimmers) subcolonies. Natural predators most commonly encountered by the colonies were herring gulls (Larus argentatus), laughing gulls (Larus atricilla), and ruddy turnstones (Arenaria interpres). Gull-billed terns responded to the gulls, but not to the turnstones, in higher proportions than did black skimmers. Two decoys, a mink and a gull, were used to simulate predatory encounters, and a duck decoy was used as a control at two mixed-species and one single-species subcolonies. Gull-billed terns responded in significantly higher proportions than did skimmers to all decoy treatments in the mixed-species subcolonies. Mobbing of both natural and model predators by the terns suggests that skimmers may gain a reproductive advantage by nesting with these terns. However, the response of black skimmers to both natural and simulated predators was independent of the presence of gull-billed terns in the colony, indicating that black skimmers may not perceive these objects as threats, or may react differently to predators than do gull-billed terns.