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Brood Defense and Age of Young: A Test of the Vulnerability Hypothesis

Holger Onnebrink and Eberhard Curio
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Vol. 29, No. 1 (1991), pp. 61-68
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4600584
Page Count: 8
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Brood Defense and Age of Young: A Test of the Vulnerability Hypothesis
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Abstract

In many altricial species including the great tit (Parus major) the intensity of brood defense against predators has been shown to increase with the age of the offspring. This effect has been ascribed amongst others to the young becoming more vulnerable as they age ("vulnerability hypothesis"). In a great tit population suffering heavy losses from brood depredation by the great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopus major), we rendered first and second broods more vulnerable by artificially enlarging the entrance of the nest hole. Contrary to the vulnerability hypothesis, 16 experimental pairs defended their brood against a dummy great spotted woodpecker less vigorously than did 16 control pairs. Nest concealment behavior potentially compromising active defense was minimized by simultaneous playback of nestling distress calls, thus simulating the act of nest predation. This leaves the "brood value hypothesis" as an alternative functional explanation of the defense level - age effect. It predicts that parents should defend their brood in proportion to the "reproductive value" (or some more suitable cohortal equivalent measure) of their offspring. At present, this explanation pertains to one predator species. In first broods, but not in second broods, males defended them more vigorously than did their females. While this parallels previous experiments on brood defense against predators posing a much greater risk to the parents, two functional explanations previously put forward can hardly apply.

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