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Desperado siblings: uncontrollably aggressive junior chicks

Drummond, Hugh, Rodríguez, Cristina, Vallarino, Adriana, Valderrábano, Claudia, Rogel, Gabriela, Tobón, Emilio
Behavioral ecology and sociobiology 2003 v.53 no.5 pp. 287-296
Sula nebouxii, chicks, nests, siblicide, siblings
According to the desperado sibling hypothesis, chicks of obligately siblicidal species kill their junior broodmates as early as possible because junior broodmates face dire ecological prospects and are consequently predisposed to aggressively overthrow elder broodmates by all-out aggression. The agonistic behavior of junior chicks is virtually unknown because they die so young. We investigated the agonistic behavior of hypothetical desperados by fostering junior brown boobies (Sula leucogaster, an obligately siblicidal species) into nests of the blue-footed booby (S. nebouxii, a facultatively siblicidal species) containing an older singleton blue-foot chick. Controls were junior blue-footed boobies fostered into the same situation. Junior brown boobies were 7 times more aggressive than controls and most of them dominated their elder and larger nestmates. Four of nine brown booby juniors showed relentless aggression, delivering up to 711 pecks, bites and pushes (including "expulsion pushes") per hour, thereby overwhelming nestmates 90% heavier and permanently expelling one of them from the nest. Similarly, in natural broods of two surviving brown booby chicks, the losing chick was 13 times as aggressive as blue-foot subordinates, up to at least age 7 weeks. Contrast of the two species of booby suggests the evolution of agonistic roles within broods may be partly driven by selection on potential victims to express a level and type of aggressiveness appropriate to their status-related ecological prospects.