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J Exp Biol. 2001 Apr;204(Pt 8):1491-501.

Physiological and biochemical correlates of brood size and energy expenditure in tree swallows.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6T 1S6.


Intra-population variation in many fitness-related traits (e.g. clutch size) is often attributed to variation in individual parental quality. One possible component of quality is the level at which each individual can expend energy while provisioning dependent young. We used breeding tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) to test whether adults with large, natural-sized broods and/or nestlings in good nutritional condition had relatively high daily energy expenditures (DEEs). Adults with high DEEs were predicted to have large internal organs and high metabolic capacities. We first measured the growth rate of nestlings in natural broods of five, six and seven over a 4-day period and then measured parental DEE using doubly labelled water. Adults were then dissected for analyses of body composition and to determine maximum enzyme activities in the pectoral muscle. Although the total mass gain of large broods was greater than that of small broods, parental DEE was independent of brood size. We hypothesize that adults matched their clutch size (and consequently, brood size) to their individual foraging efficiencies. When statistically controlling for the effects of brood size, in one of two years there was a positive correlation between DEE and brood mass. This suggests that among individuals rearing the same-sized broods there were reproductive benefits of a relatively high DEE. There was no correlation between either brood size or DEE and the mass of any internal organ or the metabolic capacity of the pectoral muscle.

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