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Effects of stage in incubation, time in season, and proportion of original clutch remaining on nest desertion by house sparrows, Passer domesticus

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Life history theory predicts that individuals should maximize their fitness by balancing current investment in offspring versus future prospects for reproduction. Faced with reduction of their current clutch, birds should desert if the prospective opportunity would increase inclusive fitness more than continued investment in the reduced clutch. I studied nest desertion in response to clutch reduction by house sparrows (Passer domesticus) to determine if continuing investment in a reduced clutch differs based on proportion of original clutch remaining, stage in incubation, and ordinal date. Nests were reduced to two eggs early or late in incubation over two complete breeding seasons. Of 150 nests manipulated, 36 were deserted. Nests were more likely to be deserted when reduction occurred earlier in incubation, earlier in the season, and with a smaller proportion of original clutch remaining. This suggests that both time and brood size are used to assess the tradeoffs between current and future investment. However, near the end of the breeding season, the proportion of original clutch remaining and stage in incubation were less important, and low desertion was likely associated with a lack of re-nesting opportunities in the current season. Therefore, whether to desert or continue investing in a reduced clutch is a function of offspring reproductive value (RV) when there is opportunity for re-nesting in the same season. However, near the end of the season the decision is based on the residual reproductive value (RRV) of parents.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 95716, USA; College of Arts and Sciences, University of Maine at Presque Isle, Presque Isle, ME, USA


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