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State-dependent incubation behaviour in the high arctic barnacle geese

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Abstract

Energetic trade-offs between time spent on incubation and times spent on foraging for nesting birds give individuals in good body condition the possibility to incubate more continuously. In the present paper, the incubation behaviour of female barnacle geese Branta leucopsis was quantified in a colony in Svalbard. Females were weighted in early incubation and feeding recess lengths and frequencies were recorded. The feeding behaviour during the course of incubation was significantly correlated to by body mass, and heavy females had both fewer and shorter feeding recesses than lighter females. Moreover, there was an increase in the number of feeding recesses and the total feeding time as the incubation period progressed. Neither clutch size nor egg laying date had an effect on incubation behaviour. However, clutch size was positively related to female body mass suggesting that high-quality females produce large clutches but also allocate more body reserves to incubation. Females left the nest to feed at all times of the day, but more frequently during day time. This was not related to their body mass. Females presumably leave their nest at the time of day when the costs to reheat eggs are at a minimum. The diurnal rhythm may also be adjusted to the activity by egg predators. Overall the results support the state-dependent hypothesis for incubation behaviour, suggesting that body condition at the start of incubation is an important factor for incubation behaviour in barnacle geese.

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Acknowledgments

Maarten J. J. E. Loonen, Geir Wing Gabrielsen and Halvar Ludvigsen are acknowledged for co-operation in the field. The Norwegian Polar Institute and Kings Bay AS are acknowledged for logistic support in Ny-Ålesund, Kongsfjorden. The Governor of Svalbard gave permission to work in the nature reserves in Kongsfjorden. Financial support was received from The Research Council of Norway and Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA). Anthony Fox are acknowledged for constructive comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ingunn M. Tombre.

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Tombre, I.M., Erikstad, K.E. & Bunes, V. State-dependent incubation behaviour in the high arctic barnacle geese. Polar Biol 35, 985–992 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-011-1145-4

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