Parental effort in the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) and the trade-off between quantity and quality of offspring
The two main goals of my thesis were to further our understanding of how parental effort is related to life-history trade-offs and to see how parental investment is reflected in various potential measures of nestling quality. I looked at how fitness is maximized by examining (1) the trade-off between current and future reproduction, and (2) the trade-off between quantity and quality of offspring. To see how parents responded to energetic demands and whether each sex reacted in a similar way, I experimentally manipulated brood sizes and quantified provisioning rates. Both male and female parents with enlarged broods increased their feeding rates, but provisioning on a per nestling basis declined, so that parents fledged lighter nestlings with shorter wings. Although the incidence of mortality did not differ between control and enlarged broods, nestlings from enlarged broods were lighter than those from control broods with the same brood size, suggesting that clutch size may be individually optimized. I also looked at how nestlings responded to different levels of nutritional stress in the manipulated broods by quantifying size and body condition, plumage colouration, and the physiological measures of T-cell mediated immune responses, and corticosterone levels in nestling feathers as a long-term integrated measure of stress physiology. The size of melanin ornaments on feathers and the saturation and brightness of carotenoid colouration was associated with nestling mass in such a way that suggested that plumage characteristics reflect nestling quality. The immune function of nestlings was negatively related to brood size and nestlings in better body condition could mount greater immune responses to foreign antigens suggesting that immune responses are energetically costly. Corticosterone levels in the feathers were not related to nestling body condition and were unaffected by the experimental brood manipulation. The ii mass of male nestlings, which are the larger sex, was more compromised by brood size than female mass was. I also found sex-specific relationships between plumage characteristics and measures of physiological performance. These findings help to explain optimal clutch size and the classic trade-off between quality and quantity of offspring. They also offer new insights into the reliability of putative measures of quality in nestlings and relationships between physiological and morphological traits.
DegreeMaster of Science (M.Sc.)
SupervisorWiebe, Karen L.
CommitteeClark, Bob; Morrissey, Christy
Copyright DateSeptember 2014
Northern Flicker, woodpecker, life-history trade-offs, provisioning, parental care, quality, immune function, feather corticosterone, chroma, brightness, melanin, brood size, ecophysiology