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Trading-off risks from predators and from aggressive hosts


Some birds exploit the aggressiveness of others that are more capable of defending their nests against predators. Usually this behaviour is selected for through improved breeding success for the timid (associate) species. The risk of predation from the more aggressive (host) species is generally rare but may select against the behaviour. The breeding success of red-breasted geese (Branta ruficollis) nesting in association with peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) in arctic Siberia was investigated from 1995 to 1999. Nest-predation risk for geese within colonies was positively correlated with distance from the falcons' eyries and negatively correlated with colony size. Though predation risk from the hosts was low, the risk of being attacked by the falcons was high, which we suggest explains why the likelihood of geese deserting their nests was negatively correlated with distance from the eyries. The optimal distance geese nested from eyries was 46 m, though only 37% of pairs managed to nest within 20 m of this. In years with low predation pressure, some geese within colonies nested farther from the falcons. This may be the first evidence to suggest a trade-off between costs and benefits in a nesting association, both of which are directly mediated by the host's nest defence behaviour.

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Quinn, J.L., Kokorev, Y. Trading-off risks from predators and from aggressive hosts. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 51, 455–460 (2002).

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  • Associate Host Nesting association Optimality Trade-off