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Costs and response to conspecific brood parasitism by colonial red-breasted mergansers

Craik, Shawn R., Titman, Rodger D., Savard, Jean-Pierre L., Kaouass, Mohammadi, Thimot, Natalie, Elliott, Kyle H., Tremblay, Éric
Journal of ethology 2018 v.36 no.3 pp. 251-258
Mergus, brood parasitism, clutch size, eggs, hatching, hens, hosts, life history, nesting, probability
Costs of conspecific brood parasitism (CBP) are expected to be influenced by a species’ life history traits. Precocial birds lay large clutches, and clutches that have been enlarged by CBP can affect host fitness through a longer incubation period, displaced eggs, and lower hatching success. We examined costs and response to CBP by hosts in a population of colonial red-breasted mergansers (Mergus serrator; n = 400 nests over 8 years) within which 29% of parasitized clutches were enlarged considerably (≥ 15 eggs). Length of the incubation period did not increase with clutch size. The mean number of eggs displaced from a parasitized nest during incubation (2.8) was 2× greater than at an unparasitized nest (1.4). Hatching success declined by 2% for each additional egg in the nest. Thus, for a nest with ≥ 15 eggs, one or more fewer host eggs hatch relative to an unparasitized nest with the same number of host eggs, assuming equal probability of success for all eggs. Hosts were 40% more likely to desert nests receiving 2 or 6 experimental eggs relative to unparasitized control nests, although it is unknown whether hens deserting a nest renested elsewhere. Our study indicates that costs of CBP to hosts during nesting may be limited to those red-breasted mergansers incubating the largest clutches (≥ 15 eggs), and it raises questions about the adaptive significance of deserting a parasitized clutch.