Rates and consequences of relaying in little auks Alle alle breeding in the High Arctic an experimental study with egg removal


D. Jakubas, Univ. of Gdańsk, Dept of Vertebrate Ecology and Zoology, ul. Wita Stwosza 59, PL-80-308 Gdańsk, Poland. E-mail: biodj@univ.gda.pl


Most seabirds have a small clutch size. Thus, replacement of a clutch after loss can make important contributions to an individual’s lifetime reproductive success. However, in the condition of short polar summer, relaying propensity may be time-constrained. In this study, we investigated rates and consequences of relaying in a small High Arctic seabird, the little auk Alle alle. We performed an experiment in which we removed the single egg from 20 nests of early-laying breeders. We measured relaying rates, and compared chick body mass and breeding success between the experimental and control nests. Despite the narrow window of the Arctic summer and the closely synchronized breeding, 75% of females produced a replacement egg just 2.7% smaller in volume than the first egg. This indicates that in little auks, the demographic effects of disruptions to breeding attempts (by predators, adverse weather or human activity) may be mitigated to some extent by replacement clutches. However, peak body mass and fledging body mass were lower in the experimental than the control chicks. This effect was rather a consequence of late hatching – chicks from replacement clutches followed seasonal decline in peak body mass and fledging mass. Finally, breeding success and chick survival up to 20 d in the experimental nests were respectively 34 and 37% lower than in the control nests. Thus, the quality and post-fledging survival of chicks from the replacement clutches were probably lower compared to the chicks hatched from the first-laid eggs.