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Ecology. 2010 Jun;91(6):1832-40.

Predator proximity as a stressor in breeding flycatchers: mass loss, stress protein induction, and elevated provisioning.

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Section of Ecology, Department of Biology, University of Turku, FI-20014 Turku, Finland.


We investigated the physiological and behavioral consequences for prey breeding at different distances from a nesting predator. In a natural setting, Pied Flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) made territory location decisions relative to established Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) nests. From female flycatchers attending nests at different distances from Sparrowhawk nests, we measured body mass, blood stress protein (HSP60 and HSP70), and plasma immunoglobulin levels at the beginning (initial) and end (final) of the flycatcher breeding cycle, and provisioning rates during the nestling phase. We found that individuals breeding in closer proximity to Sparrowhawk nests, under higher perceived predation risk, showed significantly lower body mass, higher stress protein and immunoglobulin levels, and higher nestling provisioning rates compared to those individuals breeding farther away. Across the range of distances investigated (30-610 m), final stress protein levels decreased linearly with distance, whereas the final measures of the other variables showed unimodal trends, increasing or decreasing until an intermediate distance (approximately 350 m) and reversing the direction of the trend. Within 300 m, however, all measures showed significant linear associations with distance from the Sparrowhawk nest. Body mass and stress protein associations with distance from Sparrowhawk nests were only present during late breeding, and not in early incubation. Spatial proximity to Sparrowhawk nests consistently explained significant variation in both physiological and behavioral measures, despite the multitude of potential sources of variation for these measures in a natural setting. This suggests that predictable spatial patterns in these measures in avian communities are determined by the sites of breeding predators. Habitat selection decisions of migrant prey that vary only slightly spatially have consequences even at the cellular level, which plausibly have impacts on individual survival. In addition, this study suggests that predation risk is an important factor affecting physiological condition of prey, including stress protein induction in terrestrial vertebrates.

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