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American Naturalist

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Life Sciences


Nest attentiveness (percentage of time spent on the nest) during incubation represents a parent-offspring conflict; incubating birds must balance a trade-off between caring for embryos by staying on the nest versus caring for themselves by getting off the nest to forage. For species in which females are the sole incubator, males can potentially affect this trade-off and increase nest attentiveness by feeding incubating females on the nest (incubation feeding). Increased nest attentiveness may be required when local microclimate conditions are harsh and thereby require greater incubation feeding (microclimate hypothesis). Alternatively, incubation feeding may be constrained by risk of attracting nest predators (nest predation hypothesis), which in turn may constrain female nest attentiveness because of energy limitation. We show that incubation feeding rates are much greater among cavity-nesting than among coexisting open-nesting birds. Under the microclimate hypothesis, the greater incubation feeding rates of cavity-nesting birds generate the prediction that microclimate should be harsher than for open-nesting birds. Our results reject this hypothesis because we found the opposite pattern; cavity-nesting birds experienced more moderate (less variable) microclimates that were less often below temperatures (i.e., 16 degrees C) that can negatively impact eggs compared with open-nesting species. In contrast, incubation feeding rates were highly negatively correlated with nest predation both within and between the two nest types, supporting the nest predation hypothesis. Incubation feeding in turn was positively correlated with nest attentiveness. Thus, nest predation may indirectly affect female incubation behavior by directly affecting incubation feeding by the male.



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