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Proc Biol Sci. 2001 Aug 7;268(1476):1575-82.

Predators as stressors? Physiological and reproductive consequences of predation risk in tropical stonechats (Saxicola torquata axillaris).

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  • 1Research Centre for Ornithology of the Max Planck Society, Department of Biological Rhythms and Behaviour, Von-der-Tann-Strasse 7, D-82346 Andechs, Germany.


Tropical birds usually lay smaller clutches and are less likely to initiate a second brood than their temperate-zone relatives. This reduction in annual fecundity is generally explained as an adaptation either to higher rates of nest predation or to a more limited food supply concurrent with higher adult survival in the tropics. However, the physiological parameters associated with lower annual fecundity in tropical birds have not been well investigated. We compared the annual fecundity, behaviour and a number of physiological parameters of stonechat parents feeding fledged juveniles in territories with and without fiscal shrikes, a predator on adult and fledged birds. Stonechat pairs in territories with shrikes were less likely to initiate a second brood and delayed successive broods compared to pairs in territories without shrikes. After fledging of their young, males showed a greater propensity than females to initiate distraction calls after a human intrusion into their territory and, therefore, invested more in the defence of their young. In territories with shrikes stonechat males had higher initial plasma corticosterone levels and lower body conditions than males in territories without shrikes, suggesting that they were chronically stressed. In contrast, the females from both types of territory had low initial plasma corticosterone levels. We conclude that shrike presence might account for the delay in initiation of a second brood and the reduction in the tendency to initiate a second brood. Whether these effects are mediated by the elevated levels of corticosterone remains to be demonstrated.

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