Solitary breeding barn swallows pay a higher nest defense cost

Abstract

Successful reproduction depends on the ability of parents to defend from nest predators. Breeding birds often put their life at risk to defend their offspring from predators. Communal nest defense has been proposed as an individual benefit of group living. We tested this by experimentally exposing a short-lived avian species to a potential risk of predation. We presented decoys of both a diurnal and a nocturnal predator to barn swallows Hirundo rustica breeding solitarily and in large colonies in South-western Spain. We found clear benefits of group living compared to solitary pairs in relation to investment in individual nest defense and the capacity to deter a challenging predator. Although we did not find differences in the time needed to detect the predator, we found that the number of individuals recruited to participate in nest defense was greater for colonial breeding pairs, leading to fewer attacks per individual in comparison to solitary breeding pairs. We also found that barn swallows defended their nests more vigorously against a nocturnal predator than against a diurnal predator. Therefore, barn swallows living in groups obtained clear benefits in communal nest defense by reducing the risk, energy and time dedicated to nest defense. Colonial breeding is thus a more effective strategy for decreasing nest predation rates.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Juan Sangran Dávila and Borja Lora Sangran and their families for allowing us to work on their farms. Thanks also to Martin, Antonio, Fernando, and all the other staff that work on the farms. We also thank Pilar Nieto for providing us with the control and diurnal decoy and Juan José Negro for suggesting adding the little owl to the study. We are very grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their comments that helped to improve very much the original manuscript. Finally, we thank sincerely Darrelle Alexandra Moffat and John Carlos Milburn for reviewing the English style of the manuscript.

Funding

This study was funded by research projects of Junta of Andalucía (P12-RNM-2144). CLC was supported by an operating grant from the Junta of Andalucía (P12-RNM-2144).

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Correspondence to Javier Balbontín.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All the experiments comply with the current laws of Spain, where the experiments were performed. Methods were approved by Junta de Andalusia Local Government (25/04/2012. Ref. DGB/JS). All applicable guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

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Balbontín, J., López-Sígler, L., Muriel, R. et al. Solitary breeding barn swallows pay a higher nest defense cost. J Ethol (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10164-020-00654-2

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Keywords

  • Barn swallow
  • Coloniality
  • Hirundo rustica
  • Mobbing
  • Parental investment
  • Predation risk
  • Life history