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Sex-specific costs of rearing a nestling and its implications in the brood sex ratio of Magellanic penguins

Abstract

In birds, possible explanations for a bias in brood sex ratio include differential cost of rearing nestlings of different sexes, and different parental fitness returns related to offspring sex. We studied brood sex ratio of Magellanic penguins, Spheniscus magellanicus, in Puerto Deseado for 3 years. Our objectives were to compare the growth curves and energetic costs of rearing nestlings of different sexes, and to evaluate the possible implications of environmental and parental condition in the establishment of a bias in the brood sex ratio. We also investigated the relationship between hatching order and sex, and its impact on brood survival. Asymptotic mass was 11.41% higher for males than for females. The energetic cost of feeding male nestlings was slightly higher than for feeding females, but the difference in energy requirements was only 2.6% of the total energy budget. During the 3 years, brood sex ratio was 0.53, and almost constant within years over the raising period, showing no sex allocation during feeding. Sea surface temperature, which is linked to higher prey abundance when colder, explained brood sex ratio at fledging. The sex ratio was male-biased during the coldest year. Parental body condition was not an important variable explaining brood sex ratio. There was no bias in nestling sex with respect to hatching order and nestling survival was not related to nestling sex. We conclude that, even though the cost of feeding male offspring is higher, it only involves a small fraction of total cost of raising nestlings and might not be responsible for an adaptive bias in the sex ratio of nestlings for this species. However, during good oceanic conditions, females might bias their brood sex ratio towards males, thereby potentially gaining an advantage by raising good-quality males.

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Availability of data and material

The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

We thank C. Righi, I. A. Condo, M. A. Dechima, G. Delfino, P. Dovico, C. Gillet, A. Pizzani, A. Morgenthaler, Diego Procopio, Ana Millones, Darwin Expeditions and Fundación Conociendo Nuestra Casa for their help in the field; Gustavo Somoza and Gabriela López from INTECH for their help with molecular analysis; Silvina Ippi and Natalie Dudinsky for their help with statistical analysis; the Wildlife Conservation Society, Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia Austral, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas, Temaikén and Pan American Energy for financial support; and the anonymous reviewers who helped improve the manuscript.

Funding

This research was supported by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia Austral (UNPA) 29B/120, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas (CONICET), Temaikén and Pan American Energy.

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MB and EF designed the study; MB collected the samples, did the field work and the statistical analysis; JC contributed with the bio-energetic model; MB, EF and JC were involved in the writing process and VF did the molecular analysis.

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Correspondence to Melina Barrionuevo.

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All applicable international, national and provincial rules were applied for sampling and handling animals. The Agrarian Council of Santa Cruz Province issued permits authorizing us to work on Quiroga Island with the Magellanic penguin (N°491756/16).

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Barrionuevo, M., Ferretti, V., Ciancio, J. et al. Sex-specific costs of rearing a nestling and its implications in the brood sex ratio of Magellanic penguins. Mar Biol 168, 125 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-021-03906-y

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