“Brood size affects future reproduction in a long-lived bird with precocial young”

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Alan G. Leach, James S. Sedinger, Thomas V. Riecke, Amanda W. Van Dellen, David H. Ward, and W. Sean Boyd (Mar 2019)

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A female’s brood size affects probability of future nesting, but not survival, in a long-lived bird with precocial young

A male black brant goose with a tarsal band guards his nesting site at the Tutakoke River Colony, Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska. At the time of this photo in 2015, researchers had documented a nest by this male and his partner in 8 breeding seasons since the pair was captured in a brood rearing drive in 2006.
(Credit: Tamara Payton)


Estimation of trade-offs between current reproduction and future survival and fecundity of long-lived vertebrates is essential to understanding factors that shape optimal reproductive investment. Black brant geese (Branta bernicla nigricans) fledge more goslings, on average, when their broods are experimentally enlarged to be greater than the most common clutch size of four eggs. Thus, we hypothesized that the lesser frequency of brant clutches exceeding four eggs results, at least partially, from a future reduction in survival, breeding probability, or clutch size for females tending larger broods. We used an eight-year mark-recapture dataset (Barker robust design) with five years of clutch and brood manipulations to estimate long-term consequences of reproductive decisions in brant. We did not find evidence of a trade-off between reproductive effort and true survival or future initiation date and clutch size. Rather, future breeding probability was maximized (0.92 ± 0.03 [se]) for manipulated females tending broods of four goslings and lower for females tending smaller (one gosling; 0.63 ± 0.09 [se]) or larger broods (seven goslings; 0.52 ± 0.15 [se]). Our results suggest that demographic trade-offs for female brant tending large broods may reduce the fitness value of clutches larger than four and, therefore, contribute to the paucity of larger clutches. The lack of a trade-off between reproductive effort and survival provides evidence that survival, to which fitness is most sensitive in long-lived animals, is buffered against temporal variation in brant.