Biparental incubation pattern of the Black-necked Crane on an alpine plateau

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The biparental incubation model is an excellent one for investigating how parents resolve sexual conflict and achieve cooperation, especially in cold alpine environments. We used video monitoring of 20 nests 24 h/day to systematically investigate the incubation pattern of the Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis), a biparental waterbird with threatened status (International Union for Conservation of Nature vulnerable status), inhabiting the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, China. Analysis of 3886 h of video recordings indicated high nest attendance (90.1%) by Black-necked Crane parents across 14 nests, with almost equal female and male nest attendance (45.4 vs. 44.8%). The average length of an incubation bout was 2.06 h, with frequent changeovers (10.87 times/day, lasting on average 5.05 min). Males spent significantly more time returning to the nest than females (5.57 vs. 4.65 min, t 180 = −46.61, P < 0.001) after the partner left the nest. Six of 20 monitored nests failed, mainly due to egg predation, egg collection, or adverse weather. We provide the first evidence that, under natural environmental conditions, both males and females respond to reduced partner effort with diverse strategies. On average, full compensation was greater than 100% for the decreased partner effort. In this long-lived species with long-lasting pair bonds and low fecundity, a mate may overly compensate for reduced partner investment to avoid forfeiting the current breeding attempt. Our results indicate that females and males are allocated different tasks with complementary patterns during incubation, enhancing egg care efficiency in an alpine plateau environment with severe threats. Both social and natural environmental factors may shape the incubation pattern of Black-necked Cranes.


Biparentales Brutmuster beim Schwarzhalskranich unter Hochlagen-Bedingungen

Piparentale Brut ist ein ausgezeichnetes Modell um zu untersuchen, wie Eltern Konflikte zwischen den Geschlechtern lösen und Kooperation, insbesondere unter den kalten alpinen Bedingungen, erreichen. Wir verwendeten eine Rund-um-die-Uhr-Überwachung von 20 Nestern, um die Brutmuster des Schwarzhalskranichs (Grus nigricollis) systematisch zu untersuchen. Der Schwarzhalskranich ist eine biparental brütende Art, die das tibetische Qinghai Plateau in China bewohnt. Die Analyse der 3886 Stunden Videoaufnahmen ergaben eine hohe Anwesenheit der Kranich-Eltern am Nest von 901% über 14 Nester, mit einer annähernd gleichen Anwesenheit von Weibchen und Männchen (454 resp. 448%). Die mittlere Länge einer Brutsitzung war 206 Stunden, mit häufigen Wechseln (109 mal pro Tag mit einer mittleren Dauer von 505 Minuten). Männchen brauchten signifikant länger für ihre Rückkehr zum Nest als Weibchen (557 Minuten gegenüber 465 Minuten), nachdem der Partner das Nest verlassen hatte. Sechs der 20 überwachten Nester scheiterten, hauptsächlich aufgrund von Prädation, menschlichen Eiersammlern oder widrigem Wetter. Wir zeigten als erste, dass unter natürlichen Umweltbedingungen sowohl Männchen als auch Weibchen mit unterschiedlichen Strategien auf einen verminderten Einsatz des Partners reagierten. Im Mittel lag die Kompensation für den verminderten Einsatz des Partners bei über 100%. Bei einer solch langlebigen Art mit langanhaltender Paarbindung und geringer Fruchtbarkeit könnte der andere Partner für den verminderten Einsatz des Partners überkompensieren, um es zu vermeiden, dass der aktuelle Brutversuch abgebrochen wird. Unsere Ergebnisse weisen darauf hin, dass Männchen und Weibchen verschiedene Aufgaben mit sich ergänzenden Mustern übernehmen, wodurch sie die Sorge um die Eier in einer Hochplateau-Umgebung mit großen Gefahren effektiv verbessern. Sowohl die sozialen als auch die Umweltgegebenheiten könnten die Brutmuster des Schwarzhalskranichs beeinflussen.

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We are grateful to all the people who helped with the fieldwork in the Danghe wetlands and to Lanzhou University for permission to carry out these field investigations, to Dr. Bo Du for statistical assistance, and to James Harris for his editing of the manuscript, Martin Bulla for his invaluable suggestions on the original manuscript and two anonymous referees for their constructive comments. This research was financially supported by a grant from the State Key Laboratory of Genetic Resources and Evolution, Kunming Institute of Zoology and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (GREKF1312). This work was further supported by the Yanchiwan National Nature Reserve.

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Correspondence to Lixun Zhang or Xiaojun Yang.

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Communicated by F. Lei.

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Zhang, L., Shu, M., An, B. et al. Biparental incubation pattern of the Black-necked Crane on an alpine plateau. J Ornithol 158, 697–705 (2017).

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  • Biparental care
  • Nest attendance
  • Natural environment
  • Grus nigricollis
  • Social environment
  • Alpine cold environment