, Volume 58, Issue 3, pp 326-332

Nest concealment and parental behaviour interact in affecting nest survival in the blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla): an experimental evaluation of the parental compensation hypothesis

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Abstract

Nest concealment varies strongly within populations of many species. Although some studies have revealed the beneficial effects of concealment in mitigating predation pressure on nests, other studies were unable to find similar effects. One potential reason for the mixed results is that parental behaviour may compensate for the effects of nest cover, and specifically designed experimental studies are needed to reveal this compensation. I studied the effects of concealment on the probability of nest survival in the blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), by experimentally manipulating the degree of nest-foliage cover. There was a significant effect of the treatment depending on nest type and the phase of nesting. Whereas there was no effect of concealment on nest survival in natural nests, there was a positive effect in real nests baited with plasticine clutches (i.e. without parental activity). Parents probably behaviourally compensated for poor concealment in natural nests (nest guarding, defence). In line with this, there was no effect of concealment on nest survival during incubation, whereas there was probably a positive effect in the nestling phase. Parents spent more time on the nest during incubation (80%) than during the care of nestlings (40%) and, consequently, had more opportunities to compensate for poor cover. In general, we cannot use single measures of behaviours or states (nest concealment) as an indication of predation risk because of the capacity for compensation in other behaviours.

Communicated by C. Brown