Does coloniality improve foraging efficiency and nestling provisioning? A field experiment in the wild Zebra Finch

Mylene M. Mariette*, Simon C. Griffith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The foraging benefits of coloniality, whereby colony members exchange information about food location, have been suggested as a primary factor influencing the evolution of coloniality. However, despite its longstanding popularity, this hypothesis has rarely been tested experimentally. Here, we conducted a field experiment in the wild Zebra Finch Taeniopygia guttata to test whether colonial birds are better at finding food than solitary individuals. We manipulated food patch location and directly measured foraging activity of many colonial and solitary parents at those patches using an electronic monitoring system. We provided nesting sites in excess to alleviate nest site competition and manipulated brood size to eliminate the possible correlation between brood size, nesting density, and individual quality (including foraging activity). We found that solitary birds found experimental food patches first, closely followed by colonial birds. Moreover, solitary parents adjusted the amount of food per nestling to experimental brood size, whereas colonial parents did not, although overall, nestlings were fed more per capita in colonial than in solitary nests. In addition, brood size and, to a lesser extent, nesting density negatively affected nestling growth. Therefore, with the effect of provisioning rate, sibling competition, and cost of coloniality combined, nestling mass was not affected by the brood manipulation in solitary nests, whereas nestlings were lighter in enlarged than in reduced broods in colonies. Our results therefore suggest that individuals settling in solitary nests were intrinsically better foragers and more optimal parents. While they do not invalidate the possibility of information transfer at colonies, our findings highlight the importance of considering settlement bias in future studies and add to the existing evidence that the effects of nesting density on fitness are both complex and multiple.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)325-335
Number of pages11
JournalEcology
Volume94
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013

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