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CitationBritton S, Ballentine B. Flexible responses to stage-specific offspring threats. Ecol Evol. 2020;10:93–103. https ://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.5832
JournalECOLOGY AND EVOLUTION
RightsCopyright © 2019 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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AbstractWhen caring for their young, parents must compensate for threats to offspring survival in a manner that maximizes their lifetime reproductive success. In birds, parents respond to offspring threats by altering reproductive strategies throughout the breeding attempt. Because altered reproductive strategies are costly, when threats to offspring are limited, parents should exhibit a limited response. However, it is unclear if response to offspring threat is the result of an integrated set of correlated changes throughout the breeding attempt or if responses are a flexible set of dissociable changes that are stage‐specific. We test these hypotheses in a system where house wrens (Troglodytes aedon) compete for nesting cavities with Carolina chickadees (Poecile carolinensis) by usurping and destroying their nests during the early stage of the breeding attempt (the egg stage). Due to the specificity of the house wren threat, we can test whether parental responses to an offspring threat show flexibility and stage specificity or if parental strategies are an integrated and persistent response. We monitored nests in a natural population to compare life history traits of chickadees nesting in boxes that were in the presence of house wrens to chickadees nesting in boxes that did not overlap with house wrens. Carolina chickadees that nested near house wrens laid significantly smaller clutch sizes (early change in reproductive strategy) but did not alter nestling provisioning or nestling stage length (late change in reproductive strategy), suggesting that chickadees respond in a flexible and stage‐specific manner to the threat of house wrens. By responding only when a threat is highest, parents minimize the cost of antithreat responses. Our study suggests that parents can respond in subtle and nuanced ways to offspring threats in the environment and specifically alter reproductive behaviors at the appropriate stage.
NoteOpen access journal
VersionFinal published version
SponsorsHighlands Plateau Audubon Society; Western Carolina University