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Life history, predation and flight initiation distance in a migratory bird

Møller, A. P.
Journal of evolutionary biology 2014 v.27 no.6 pp. 1105-1113
birds, risk, migratory behavior, breeding, spring, tail, flight, predation, death, heritability, Hirundo rustica, climate
Life‐history trade‐offs occur as a consequence of the compromise between maximization of different components such as the size and the number of clutches. Flight initiation distance (FID) potentially constitutes a general proximate factor influencing such trade‐offs reflecting the risks that individuals take. Therefore, greater investment in reproduction occurs at a higher risk of death, resulting in selection for efficient flight morphology. I analysed long‐term data on FID in a population of barn swallows Hirundo rustica during 1984–2013 with 2196 records of FID for 1789 individuals. FID had a repeatability of 0.62 (SE = 0.04) and a heritability of 0.48 (SE = 0.07). FID varied between individuals and sites, and it increased over time as climate ameliorated. FID showed a U‐shaped relationship with age, with young and very old individuals having the longest FIDs. Barn swallows that arrived early from spring migration, started to breed early and produced many fledglings had the longest FID. Individuals with the longest tails had the longest FID, and individuals with the shortest aspect ratios and wing loadings had the longest FID. Individuals that died from predation had shorter FID than survivors. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that FID relates directly to life history, with longer FIDs being associated with smaller levels of risk‐taking.