Density dependence and habitat quality modulate the intensity of display territory defence in an exploded lekking species
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We evaluated the effect of conspecific abundance and habitat quality of leks on the territorial behaviour of males in an exploded lekking species, the Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax). The hypothesis that males more intensely defend territories with higher conspecific abundance and better habitat quality was evaluated experimentally analysing the agonistic response of experimental males to male decoys placed on their displaying areas. Decoy experiments showed that the intensity of display territory defence by little bustard males is density dependent. The time experimental males took to return to their display sites after decoy placement decreased with abundance of both males and females. The strength of their final response was positively associated to local male and female abundance in the vicinity of their display sites. Habitat quality also influenced males’ display territory defence since the intensity of male response increased with the degree of natural vegetation cover. Habitat quality was particularly relevant in explaining variation of experimental males’ snort call rate, which decreased with the degree in plough cover and increased with the number of fields in the lekking area. Snort call rate decreased with the level of male aggregation and was lowest in males exhibiting the strongest aggressive response to decoys. These results add new evidence for the density dependence of species’ breeding territorial behaviour, supporting density-dependent models of lek formation and reinforcing the role of resources defence in exploded lek mating systems.
KeywordsAggressive behaviour Decoy experiments Fallows Resource defence Spain
Particular thanks are due to Vincent Bretagnolle and Frédéric Jiguet for lending their little bustard decoys for experiments. We thank all farmers, hunting managers and gamekeepers of our study areas for allowing us to work on their properties. Salvador Luna, Laura Iglesias, Juan Bécares, Núria Pocino, Sergi Ricart, Pau Ferrer and María Castañeda collaborated during some stages of the work. FC and JM-P were supported by a JAE-Doc contract funded by Spanish Research Council and the European Social Fund (ESF), and ELG was funded by a FPU grant from the Spanish Ministry of Education. The comments of two anonymous reviewers sensibly improved the first version of the manuscript. This paper contributes to projects CGL2004-06147-C02-01, CGL2004-06147-C02-02 and CGL2009-13029/BOS of the Spanish Ministry of Science, as well as to the REMEDINAL2 network of the Community of Madrid (S-2009/AMB/1783). MBM, FC and GB contributed equally to the final outcome of the present study.
The experiments here described complied with the laws of Spain and the regions (Catalonia, Castilla-La Mancha and Madrid) where they were performed.
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