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Dual function of egg-covering in the Kentish plover Charadrius alexandrinus

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Many bird species take recesses during incubation, and while the nests are unattended, the eggs may both be vulnerable to predation and reach suboptimal temperatures for embryo development. Perhaps to avoid these negative possibilities, some birds cover their eggs with materials when they depart from nests. We examined experimentally, using the ground-nesting Kentish plover as model species, whether egg-covering allows egg temperatures to remain within optimal limits for embryogenesis in unattended nests, thus reducing the requirements of contact incubation, and simultaneously maintain the eggs’ camouflage. There was a negative relationship between nest attendance and ambient temperature, but only during mid-morning, the period of the day when egg-covering was most frequent. Indeed, during mid-morning egg-covering not only served to better camouflage the eggs, but also to maintain egg temperatures within optimal thermal thresholds for embryogenesis while the nests remained unattended. During other periods of the day, covered eggs in unattended nests overheated (e.g., afternoon) or did not reach the optimal temperature for embryogenesis (e.g., early morning). During periods in which eggs may be uncovered to alleviate overheating, unattended nests may be easier to locate by predators, because the eggs are less well camouflaged. Therefore, camouflage and appropriate thermal environment are inseparable functions of egg-covering in the ground-nesting Kentish plover.

Affiliations: 1: aDepartment of Wetland Ecology, Estación Biológica de Doñana (EBD-CSIC), Calle Américo Vespucio s/n, E-41092 Sevilla, Spain; 2: cGrupo de Investigación en Biología de la Conservación, Área de Biología Animal, Universidad de Extremadura, Avda. Elvas s/n, E-06071 Badajoz, Spain


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