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Load Lightening in Southern Lapwings: Group-Living Mothers Lay Smaller Eggs than Pair-Living Mothers

Authors

  • Eduardo S. A. Santos,

    1. Laboratório de Comportamento Animal, Departamento de Zoologia, Universidade de Brasília, Brasília, Brazil
    2. Programa de Pós-Graduação em Ecologia, Universidade de Brasília, Brasília, Brazil
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  • Regina H. Macedo

    1. Laboratório de Comportamento Animal, Departamento de Zoologia, Universidade de Brasília, Brasília, Brazil
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Eduardo S. A. Santos, Department of Zoology, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand.
E-mail: e.salves@gmail.com

Abstract

Females of some cooperative-breeding species can decrease their egg investment without costs for their offspring because helpers-at-the-nest compensate for this reduction either by feeding more or by better protecting offspring from predation. We used the southern lapwing (Vanellus chilensis) to evaluate the effects of the presence of helpers on maternal investment. Southern lapwings are cooperative (some breeding pairs are aided by helpers), chick development is precocial, thus adults do not feed the chicks, and adults offer protection from predators through mobbing behaviors. We tested whether southern lapwing females reduced their reproductive investment (i.e. load-lightening [LL] hypothesis) or increased their investment (i.e. differential allocation hypothesis) when breeding in groups when compared with females that bred in pairs. We found that increased group size was associated with lower egg volume. A significant negative association between the combined egg nutritional investment (yolk, protein, and lipid mass) and group size was observed. Chicks that hatched from eggs laid in nests of groups were also smaller than chicks hatched in nests of pairs. However, there was no relationship between the body mass index of chicks, or clutch size and group size, which suggests that such eggs are, simply, proportionally smaller. Our results support the LL hypothesis even in a situation where adults do not feed the chicks, allowing females to reduce investment in eggs without incurring a cost to their offspring.

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