, Volume 59, Issue 6, pp 805-810
Date: 04 Jan 2006

Sex-biased costs in nest defence behaviours by lesser snow geese (Chen caerulescens): consequences of parental roles?

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Abstract

Nest defence behaviours, such as attacking predators and defending against predator attacks, expose birds to risk of injury and death. However, direct costs of such behaviours are poorly documented. To evaluate potential costs of nest defence behaviours in lesser snow geese (Chen caerulescens), we (1) estimated the proportion of interactions between arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) and geese that resulted in physical contact and (2) examined how nest defence behaviours varied between male and female geese. We separated interactions into attacks initiated by foxes (attacks by foxes) and attacks initiated by geese (attacks by geese). Risks associated with attacks by geese were considerably lower than the risks associated with attacks by foxes; only 1 of 1,179 attacks by geese resulted in physical contact between foxes and geese, whereas 26 of 89 attacks by foxes involved such contact (two female geese were killed during these attacks). Attacks by geese were made almost exclusively by male geese (>97%), whereas female geese were involved in 75% of all attacks by foxes that resulted in physical contact with geese. There was, thus, a considerable difference in risks associated with male and female nest defence behaviours. We suggest that parental roles during nesting (i.e., females incubate and males guard) expose female geese to greater risk of injury and death. Male geese may, however, reduce the risk of injury or death to their mates with pre-emptive attacks on foraging foxes.

Communicated by M. Leonard