When reproductive success is constant in one breeding phase, different tactics that increase variation in reproductive success among individuals may evolve in other phases. For instance, in shorebirds, which usually have a limited clutch size of four eggs, variation in reproductive tactics among individuals is expected either before egg-laying (e.g. diverse mating systems) or after hatching of the young (e.g. diverse parental care). In this paper, I studied the pied avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta), a shorebird with a modal clutch size of four eggs, to test whether post-hatch chick adoption as an alternative tactic can be linked to increased variation in annual reproductive success. When predation was high, naturally adopting pairs produced more filial fledglings than did pairs not adopting chicks and not losing chicks to adoption. The number of filial fledglings increased with the number of adopted young, possibly through diluting the chances of predation on filial young. Experimental chick addition did not lead to more fledged young due to low brood integrity as shown by the frequent loss of chicks from some experimental broods. When predation was low, larger broods occupied feeding territories with higher prey abundance than smaller broods, possibly due to their dominance over smaller ones. Pairs that lost chicks to adoption (donors) fledged as many filial young in their broods as did non-adopters/non-donors, whereas the total number of donors' filial fledglings, including those raised in adopting broods, approached that of adopters. These findings show, for the first time, that post-hatch alternative reproductive tactics can lead to variation in annual reproductive success and to higher success for some pairs even in species where past adaptations limit variation in reproductive success in a certain phase of reproduction.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology