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Parent-absent signalling of need and its consequences for sibling competition in the barn swallow

Romano, Andrea, Boncoraglio, Giuseppe, Rubolini, Diego, Saino, Nicola
Behavioral ecology and sociobiology 2013 v.67 no.5 pp. 851-859
Hirundo rustica, acoustics, food deprivation, food intake, foods, parents, progeny, satiety, siblings
In species with parental care, competition among siblings for access to limited parental resources is common. Sibling competition can be mediated by begging behaviour, a suite of different visual and acoustic displays by which offspring solicit parental care. These are mostly addressed to the parents upon food provisioning, but can also be performed in the absence of the attending parents. This so-called parent-absent begging (PAB) may function as an intrabrood communication signal and potentially affect intrabrood competition dynamics for access to food. We investigated the role of PAB in moulding sibling interactions and its effect on food intake among altricial barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) nestlings, both under normal and experimentally reduced food intake. Frequency of PAB increased after food deprivation. Nestlings that had performed PAB increased their begging intensity upon the subsequent parental feeding visit, while siblings reduced their own begging level, but only when they had not been food-deprived. As a consequence, nestlings which had performed PAB before parental arrival had larger chances of receiving food. However, nestlings did not benefit from displaying PAB when competing with food-deprived siblings. Our findings show that PAB reliably reflects need of food, indicating that a nestling will vigorously compete for the subsequent food item. By eavesdropping siblings' PAB displays, nestlings may optimally balance the costs of scrambling competition, the direct fitness gains of being fed and the indirect fitness costs of subtracting food to needy kin. However, large asymmetries in satiation between competitors may lead individual offspring to monopolize parental resources, irrespective of PAB displays.