, Volume 25, Issue 5, pp 369-378

Offspring reproductive value and nest defense in the magpie (Pica pica )

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Summary

Magpie (Pica pica) brood defense against a human at the nest was studied in a Mediterranean population with low renesting potential. Variations in two defense measures recorded during 106 trials at 41 different nests were positively correlated with brood age. Ineremental effects due to the number of successive visits to nests by us, brood size, and the time in the breeding season were not significant. Partial correlation analyses showed that visit rate was not an important determinant of nest defense, which thus favors an adaptive explanation of nest defense patterns. Two functional hypotheses to account for the increase in defense intensity with brood age were tested: whether (1) increased parental defense serves to compensate the higher predation risk of older nests or (2) increased parental defense reflects the increasing reproductive value of nestlings as they grow older. Daily mortality and incidende of predation (estimated from contribution of whole-brood losses to total mortality) was higher early in the nestling period, hence providing weak evidence for the assumption on which hypothesis (1) is based. The timing of parental defense intensity did not mirror variations in predation risk for the nest but variations in reproductive value of the brood, as can be estimated from daily mortality, thus supporting hypothesis (2). Magpie parents increased defense intensity in response to premature escaping by almost fully-developed nestlings. Since such a response lowers predation risk for the offspring and increases their probability of survival, this finding supports hypothesis (2), but runs contrary to hypothesis (1). Parents also increased defense in response to play-backs of alarm calls uttered by nestlings during escaping episodes. It is argued that parents should continuously monitor the degree of offspring development in order to assess their reproductive value and that, by alarm calling, chicks honestly make their parents aware of the gain in reproductive value that results from enhancement in locomotory abilities that occur at the end of the nestling period.