Video nest monitoring reveals male coloration-dependant nest predation and sex differences in prey size delivery in a bird under high sexual selection

Abstract

Increased predation risk should select for reduced parental activity to decrease the probability of visually hunting predators discovering the nest. Parental activity and conspicuousness are known to increase predation risk. Here, we test for sex differences in parental visitation rate (number of visits), time seen at the nest (time at the nest × adult visibility), and food delivery (prey size) using continuous video recordings at nests. We test the role of these variables for predation outcome in the Superb Fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus). The study species is sexually dimorphic: males have iridescent blue plumage while females have brown plumage. The results showed that nest predation was predicted by male time seen at the nest (but not visitation rate), but not female time seen at the nest (or visitation rate). Contrary to our expectation that males would have lower visitation rates than females, our analysis of video images showed that male and female visitation was comparable but that males consistently brought smaller prey items to the nest than females. These findings are discussed in the light of morphological differences between male and female beak size. We conclude that sexual selection has favoured conspicuous male signalling in this system, and that natural selection should select for reduced parental care for the conspicuous sex.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the following organisations for financial support: Australian Research Council, Department for Environment and Heritage, and Sir Mark Mitchell Research Foundation with awards to Sonia Kleindorfer, and the Holsworth Foundation and the Nature Foundation of South Australia with awards to Diane Colombelli-Négrel. This study was approved by the Animal Welfare Committee at Flinders University and by the Department for Environment and Heritage. We thank students from the Bird Lab for assistance in the field. We thank Beth Schlotfeldt for comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Sonia Kleindorfer.

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Communicated by T. Friedl.

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Colombelli-Négrel, D., Kleindorfer, S. Video nest monitoring reveals male coloration-dependant nest predation and sex differences in prey size delivery in a bird under high sexual selection. J Ornithol 151, 507–512 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-009-0480-5

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Keywords

  • Male activity
  • Nest predation
  • Adult visibility
  • Prey size