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Nest-site safety predicts the relative investment made in first and replacement eggs by two long-lived seabirds


Comparative studies of birds suggest that differences in nest-site characteristics, such as between open-nesting and cavity-nesting species, might ultimately underlie much interspecific variation in clutch size and renesting capacity. The "renesting hypothesis" holds that in species that typically enjoy high breeding success because they nest in safe sites, individuals maximize fitness by laying large first clutches early in the season while withholding few resources for renesting attempts. We tested whether differences in nesting habits would be associated with differences in egg size and renesting capacity in razorbills (Alca torda) and Brünnich's guillemots (Uria lomvia), long-lived marine birds of the tribe Alcini (family Alcidae) that lay single-egg clutches. Razorbills nest in a dispersed fashion, often building nests of small stones and other matter in enclosed crevices where their eggs and chicks are safe from avian predators. Brünnich's guillemots nest very densely on exposed cliff ledges and do not build nests. Due to these differences in nesting habits, razorbills experience higher hatching success than Brünnich's guillemots. As predicted by the renesting hypothesis, razorbills laid larger eggs than guillemots, after accounting for differences in adult body mass. Associated with this larger investment in first eggs, razorbills were less likely than guillemots to replace lost eggs, and they took longer to do so. As these results were obtained by experimentally removing eggs from early-laying females, they presumably assessed the tendencies of more capable birds in both species. Data from other colonies and years were consistent with these results. We conclude that differences in nesting habits have led to evolutionary divergence in the investment made in first and replacement eggs by these two closely related species.

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Hipfner, M.J., Gaston, A.J. & Storey, A.E. Nest-site safety predicts the relative investment made in first and replacement eggs by two long-lived seabirds. Oecologia 129, 234–242 (2001).

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  • Egg size
  • Hatching success
  • Nest-site characteristics
  • Renesting
  • Trade-offs