Overproduction in the Lesser Black-backed Gull – can marginal chicks overcome the initial handicap of hatching asynchrony?

Royle, Nick J. (2000) Overproduction in the Lesser Black-backed Gull – can marginal chicks overcome the initial handicap of hatching asynchrony? Journal of Avian Biology, 31 (9). pp. 335-344. ISSN 0908-8857

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In response to unpredictability of both food availability and core offspring failure, parents of many avian species initially produce more offspring than they commonly rear (overproduction). When parental investment is insufficient to raise the whole brood the handicap of hatching last means 'marginal' chicks are less likely to survive if brood reduction occurs. Conversely, if marginal offspring are required as replacements for failed 'core' chicks, or parental investment is sufficient to rear the whole brood, the handicap imposed on marginal chicks must be reversible if overproduction is to be a viable strategy. I investigated the ability of marginal offspring to overcome the handicap imposed by hatching asynchrony using a combination of a field experiment, designed to manipulate both the amount of total competition and the relative competitive ability of chicks within a brood, and data on the growth and survival of unmanipulated, three-chick broods from three consecutive years. The results indicate that, even when resources are abundant, marginal offspring do not begin to overcome the competitive handicap imposed by hatching asynchrony until the period of growth when energetic requirements reach their peak, and subsequent survival to fledging is almost assured. This is apparently a consequence of parents controlling allocation of early parental investment, so that any brood reduction 'decisions' can be left as late as possible. Marginal chicks initially channel resources into maintaining mass, relative to skeletal size, as a buffer against starvation. However this also means competitiveness is reduced, so if conditions are poor marginal chicks are rapidly out-competed, lose condition and die. Conversely, when food availability is good marginal offspring devote more resources to skeletal growth and quickly close the gap on their core siblings, meaning the handicap is reversible. The benefits of overproduction and hatching asynchrony as reproductive strategies to maximise success in Lesser Black-backed Gulls are discussed in relation to the reproductive alternatives.

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Journal Article
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Journal of Avian Biology
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25 Jul 2008 13:22
Last Modified:
19 Sep 2023 00:07