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Title: Visitation rate, but not foraging range, responds to brood size manipulation in an aerial insectivore

Life history theory predicts that increased investment in current offspring decreases future fecundity or survival. Avian parental investment decisions have been studied either via brood size manipulation or direct manipulation of parental energetic costs (also known as handicapping). However, we have limited experimental data on the potential interactive effects of these manipulations on parent behavior. Additionally, we know little about how these manipulations affect spatial foraging behavior away from the nest. We simultaneously manipulated brood size and parental costs (via added weight in the form of a GPS tag) in wild female barn swallows (Hirundo rustica). We measured multiple aspects of parent behavior at and away from the nest while controlling for measures of weather conditions. We found no significant interactive effects of manipulated brood size and parental costs. Both sexes increased their visitation rate with brood size, but nestlings in enlarged broods grew significantly less post-brood size manipulation than those in reduced broods. Foraging range area was highly variable among GPS-tagged females but was unaffected by brood size. As such, increased visitation rate in response to brood size may be more energetically costly for far-ranging females. GPS-tagged females did not alter their visitation rate relative to un-tagged birds, but more » their mates had higher visitation rates. This suggests that GPS tagging may affect some unmeasured aspect of female behavior, such as prey delivery. Our findings indicate that investigation of foraging tactics alongside visitation rate is critical to understanding parental investment and the benefits and costs of reproduction.

Significance statement

Avian parental investment decisions have been studied by either brood size manipulation or direct manipulation of parental costs, but rarely both simultaneously. We simultaneously manipulated brood size and parental costs (via addition of a GPS tag) in a wild avian system, allowing us to examine interactive effects of these manipulations. Additionally, studies of parental investment often examine behaviors at the nest, but measurements of parental care behavior away from the nest are rare. Our study is unique in that we measured multiple aspects of parental care, including spatial foraging behavior tracked with GPS tags. We found no interactive effects of manipulated brood size and parental costs on visitation rate or nestling growth, and spatial foraging behavior of females was individually variable. Documenting foraging tactics alongside visitation rate is critical to understanding parental investment because the same visitation rate might be more costly for far-ranging females.

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Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Springer Science + Business Media
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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