Plasticity in incubation behaviour under experimentally prolonged vulnerability to nest predation

in Behaviour
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Nest predation is the main cause of nest failures in many bird species. To counter this, birds have evolved different behavioural strategies to decrease the visibility of their nests, thus reducing the probability of nest detection. We manipulated the long-term perception of nest predation risk in pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) by experimentally increasing the nest vulnerability to predators. We placed treatment and control nest-boxes for breeding pied flycatchers that appeared identical during the initial phase of breeding. But after the removal of a front panel, treatment boxes had an enlarged entrance hole, almost twice the initial diameter. This treatment increases actual predation risk and presumably parental perception of risk. Control boxes presented instead an entrance hole of the same size both before and after the manipulation. When breeding in enlarged entrance holes, females doubled the vigilance at the nest while males reduced the time spent at the nest, compared to pied flycatchers breeding in control boxes. Increased vulnerability of the nest site to predation risk, thus, induced pied flycatcher parents to increase nest vigilance while reducing their activity at the nest. These results highlight the existence of plasticity in incubation behaviours under long-term experimentally increased nest predation risk.

Plasticity in incubation behaviour under experimentally prolonged vulnerability to nest predation

in Behaviour



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    (a) Treatment boxes appeared normal during habitat choice and egg-laying periods, but a panel was removed during incubation revealing an enlarged entrance hole increasing nest vulnerability to predators. (b) Control boxes appeared normal but during incubation the removed panel revealed an entrance hole of the same, normal, size as before manipulation and did not alter nest vulnerability. This figure is published in colour in the online edition of this journal, which can be accessed via

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    Pied flycatcher females scanning the surrounding of the nest-box from the entrance hole of a treatment nest-box (left) and a control nest-box (right). This figure is published in colour in the online edition of this journal, which can be accessed via

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    Mean ± standard error (SE) of female vigilance rate (minutes of vigilance/10 min) in nest-boxes with normal entrance hole (controls; white bars) and with enlarged entrance hole (treatments; hatched bars).

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    Mean ± standard error (SE) of male minutes at the nest every ten minutes in nest boxes with normal entrance hole (controls; white bar) and with enlarged entrance hole (treatments; hatched bar).

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