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Oecologia. 2008 Nov;158(2):205-16. doi: 10.1007/s00442-008-1139-2. Epub 2008 Sep 16.

Habitat-specific clutch size and cost of incubation in eiders reconsidered.

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1
ARONIA Coastal Zone Research Team, Raseborgsvägen 9, 10600, Ekenäs, Finland. markus.ost@novia.fi

Abstract

The energetic incubation constraint hypothesis (EICH) for clutch size states that birds breeding in poor habitat may free up resources for future reproduction by laying a smaller clutch. The eider (Somateria mollissima) is considered a candidate for supporting this hypothesis. Clutch size is smaller in exposed nests, presumably because of faster heat loss and higher incubation cost, and, hence, smaller optimal clutch size. However, an alternative explanation is partial predation: the first egg(s) are left unattended and vulnerable to predation, which may disproportionately affect exposed nests, so clutch size may be underestimated. We experimentally investigated whether predation on first-laid eggs in eiders depends on nest cover. We then re-evaluated how nesting habitat affects clutch size and incubation costs based on long-term data, accounting for confounding effects between habitat and individual quality. We also experimentally assessed adult survival costs of nesting in sheltered nests. The risk of egg predation in experimental nests decreased with cover. Confounding between individual and habitat quality is unlikely, as clutch size was also smaller in open nests within individuals, and early and late breeders had similar nest cover characteristics. A trade-off between clutch and female safety may explain nest cover variation, as the risk of female capture by us, mimicking predation on adults, increased with nest cover. Nest habitat had no effect on female hatching weight or weight loss, while lower temperature during incubation had an unanticipated positive relationship with hatching weight. There were no indications of elevated costs of incubating larger clutches, while clutch size and colony size were positively correlated, a pattern not predicted by the 'energetic incubation constraint' hypothesis. Differential partial clutch predation thus offers the more parsimonious explanation for clutch size variation among habitats in eiders, highlighting the need for caution when analysing fecundity and associated life-history parameters when habitat-specific rates of clutch predation occur.

PMID:
18795336
DOI:
10.1007/s00442-008-1139-2
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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