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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10261/44065
Title: Daily body mass regulation in dominance-structured coal tit (Parus ater) flocks in response to variable food access: a laboratory study
Authors: Polo, Vicente; Bautista, Luis M.
Keywords: Body mass regulation
Coal tits
Food access
Social rank
Starvation risk
Parus ater
Issue Date: 2002
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Citation: Behavioral Ecology, 13(5): 696-704
Abstract: In a dominance-structured flock, social status may determine priority of access to food. Birds of low social status may perceive present and future access to food as less predictable, and so have a higher risk of starvation, than birds of high social rank. Theoretical models predict that subordinate birds should carry larger fat reserves and incur higher mass-dependent costs than dominants. However, empirical tests of the assumptions of these models are still scarce and controversial. We investigated the effect of dominance rank on daily mass gain under conditions of fluctuating food availability in a laboratory experiment using four flocks of four coal tits (Parus ater) each. The same amount of food was delivered in two treatments, but in one treatment the food was offered at a constant rate between days (fixed treatment), while in the other treatment the daily food supply varied in an unpredictable sequence between days (variable treatment). All birds showed greater variance in body mass in the variable treatment than in the fixed treatment. Body mass within birds showed the same variability at dawn than at dusk in the fixed treatment, but less variability at dawn than at dusk in the variable treatment. This may be a mechanism to reduce the immediate risk of starvation at the beginning of the day, when fat reserves are at their lowest and the aggression between flock members when feeding highest. Subordinate birds were excluded from the feeders by dominants more often in the early morning than in the rest of the day, and they showed more variability in daily mass gain and body mass at dawn than dominant birds. These results support the hypothesis that subordinate birds have a reduced probability of surviving when food availability changes unexpectedly compared to dominants.
Publisher version (URL): http://beheco.oxfordjournals.org/content/15/4/549.full
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10261/44065
ISSN: 1045-2249
DOI: 10.1093/beheco/13.5.696
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