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Am Nat. 1998 Jun;151(6):514-29. doi: 10.1086/286137.

The evolution of coloniality in birds in relation to food, habitat, predation, and life-history traits: a comparative analysis.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, United Kingdom.


Coloniality in birds has been intensively studied under the cost and benefit approach, but no general conclusion can be given concerning its evolutionary function. Here, we report on a comparative analysis carried out on 320 species of birds using the general method of comparative analysis for discrete variables and the contrast method to analyze the evolution of coloniality. Showing a mean of 23 convergences and 10 reversals, coloniality appears to be a rather labile trait. Colonial breeding appears strongly correlated with the absence of feeding territory, the aquatic habitat, and nest exposure to predators but was not correlated with changes in life-history traits (body mass and clutch size). The correlation of coloniality with the aquatic habitat is in fact explained by a strong correlation with the marine habitat. Unexpectedly, we found that the evolution toward a marine habitat in birds was contingent on coloniality and that coloniality evolved before the passage to a marine life. These results-along with the lack of transitions from the nonmarine to marine habitat in solitary species and the precedence of the loss of feeding territoriality on the passage to a marine life-contradict most of the hypotheses classically accepted to explain coloniality and suggest that we use a different framework to study this evolutionary enigma.

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