Main content area

Escape from predators and genetic variance in birds

Jiang, Y., Møller, A. P.
Journal of evolutionary biology 2017 v.30 no.11 pp. 2059-2067
antipredatory behavior, birds, body size, correlation, death, escape behavior, flight, foraging, genetic background, genetic variance, genetic variation, heritability, heterozygosity, humans, inbreeding coefficient, microsatellite repeats, minisatellite repeats, phylogeny, predation, predators, risk, threatened species
Predation is a common cause of death in numerous organisms, and a host of antipredator defences have evolved. Such defences often have a genetic background as shown by significant heritability and microevolutionary responses towards weaker defences in the absence of predators. Flight initiation distance (FID) is the distance at which an individual animal takes flight when approached by a human, and hence, it reflects the life‐history compromise between risk of predation and the benefits of foraging. Here, we analysed FID in 128 species of birds in relation to three measures of genetic variation, band sharing coefficient for minisatellites, observed heterozygosity and inbreeding coefficient for microsatellites in order to test whether FID was positively correlated with genetic variation. We found consistently shorter FID for a given body size in the presence of high band sharing coefficients, low heterozygosity and high inbreeding coefficients in phylogenetic analyses after controlling statistically for potentially confounding variables. These findings imply that antipredator behaviour is related to genetic variance. We predict that many threatened species with low genetic variability will show reduced antipredator behaviour and that subsequent predator‐induced reductions in abundance may contribute to unfavourable population trends for such species.