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Parent–offspring associations in wintering brent geese: parental investment or mutual assistance?


Evelynne Tinkler, School of Biological Sciences, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Medical Biology Centre, New Queen's University, 97 Lisburn Road, Belfast BT9 7BL, UK


The continued parent–offspring associations in the Eastern Canadian High Arctic light-bellied brent goose Branta bernicla hrota was examined to determine whether this is an example of continued parental investment or mutual assistance. Adults with juveniles spend more than twice as much time being vigilant and aggressive than do those without offspring. The loss of a partner, however, does not result in the remaining parent increasing parental care but does result in increased ‘self-care’ by the juveniles. Neither parents nor single-parent juveniles appear to pay an energetic cost relative to non-parental adults and two-parent juveniles, respectively. Differences in the feeding distribution of parents and non-parents and equivalent or better physical condition suggests that families are able to maintain access to a superior food supply over the winter. Passive ‘assistance’ by juveniles may assist in maintaining this position in favoured areas, and this is achieved with little overt aggression. The present study thus provides no data that show a net cost to parents by remaining with their juveniles over the winter period. Thus, mutual assistance might be a better explanation of the prolonged association rather than a period of parental investment with an overall cost.