New Science study revisits the debate over bird parents, predators, and family planning

earchers also saw fewer but bulkier meal deliveries. In other words, Martin says, "Nest predation constrained food delivery and clutch size."

When researchers compared overall results from Argentina with those from Arizona, however, some aspects of their data didn't fit well with the Skutch theory. In Argentina, for instance, predators were far less troublesome, and female birds brought food to their young faster. But, they had smaller clutch sizes in comparison with the Arizona bird mothers. According to the Skutch hypothesis, researchers should have seen higher predation rates and smaller, less frequent feedings among the South American bird families.

"In Argentina, we were monitoring clutches with roughly half the number of nestlings that we saw in Arizona, and yet, the parents were bringing food to them at higher rates," Martin reports.

Clearly, the Science paper concludes, smaller clutch sizes in southern areas can't be explained solely by food delivery or predation rates. Martin and his colleagues recommend building on the Skutch theory by assessing parent mortality rates in northern and southern climates. Birds who must endure cold winters or long, arduous migrations may need larger clutches to ensure the survival of their species, he speculates.


Contact: Ginger Pinholster
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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