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Biol Lett. 2006 Dec 22;2(4):624-7.

Linking ecology, behaviour and conservation: does habitat saturation change the mating system of bearded vultures?

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Department of Applied Biology, Estación Biológica de Doñana (CSIC), Avenida M. Luisa s/n, 41013 Sevilla, Spain.


The social organization of a population is the consequence of the decisions made by individuals to maximize their fitness, so differences in social systems may arise from differences in ecological conditions. Here, we show how a long-lived species that used to breed monogamously, and at low densities, can change its mating system in response to habitat saturation. We found that a significant proportion of unpaired birds become potential breeders by entering high-quality territories, or by forming polyandrous trios as a strategy to increase their individual performance. However, productivity of territories was reduced when those occupied by breeding pairs changed to trios, suggesting that the third individual was costly. The decision of some individuals to enter into breeding trios as subordinates also had clear negative consequences to population demography. This unusual mating behaviour is thus compromising the conservation effort directed to this endangered species; management to encourage floaters to settle in other suitable but unoccupied areas may be beneficial.

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