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Nest intrusion and infanticidal attack on nestlings in great cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo: why do adults attack conspecific chicks?

Abstract

Infanticide, the killing of young animals by conspecifics, has been observed in diverse taxa. The function of infanticide has been classified as exploitation, sexual selection, parental manipulation or resource competition. We observed infanticidal behavior and its reproductive results at five breeding colonies of great cormorants from January to August 2008. Eighteen cases of nest intrusions and/or attacks toward a chick by conspecific non-nest-owners were observed, and two of them were filmed. In both attacks, perpetrators pecked the necks of chicks several times with display. The chicks bent their necks down onto the nest and remained stationary. Our data did not support the exploitation hypothesis because adult cormorants did not use chicks as food. In addition, the perpetrators were not true parents and did not mate with the female nest owner, indicating that parental manipulation and sexual selection hypotheses were unlikely explanations. On the other hand, concurrent presence of adults during prelaying and chick-rearing periods at a particular colony affected the occurrence of nest takeovers and intrusions and/or attacks, suggesting that some conflicts over nests arise between individuals that are at different stages of the breeding cycle. Digital videos relating to this article are available at http://www.momo-p.com/showdetail-e.php?movieid=momo090421pc01a and http://www.momo-p.com/showdetail-e.php?movieid=momo090421pc02a.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Yutaka Watanuki for helpful comments during the course of the study, and thanks are also due to Kyle Elliott and two anonymous referees for thoughtful comments that greatly improved the manuscript. We gratefully acknowledge the advice of Narihito Saito and Akira Ishida, and the assistance of Tadashi Tajima and Shinji Hikosaka. The research was funded in part by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries of Japan as Research and development projects for application in promoting new policy of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries.

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Correspondence to Yukiko Inoue.

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Inoue, Y., Yoda, K., Fujii, H. et al. Nest intrusion and infanticidal attack on nestlings in great cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo: why do adults attack conspecific chicks?. J Ethol 28, 221–230 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10164-009-0192-6

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Keywords

  • Infanticide
  • Phalacrocorax carbo
  • Nest competition
  • Intraspecific aggression
  • Overlapping different breeding motivation