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Determinants of quality in a long-lived colonial species
Lewis, S., Wanless, S., Elston, D.A., Schultz, M.D., Mackley, E., Du Toit, M., Underhill, J.G. & Harris, M.P. (2006) J. Animal Ecol. 75:1304-1312
1. In many animal populations a small proportion of individuals produce the majority of surviving offspring, but the underlying mechanisms are unclear. Behaviour may be an important determinant of variation in fitness: ‘high-quality’ individuals may have enhanced abilities in foraging or predator and parasite avoidance.

2. The role of behaviour in determining variation in quality was examined using the Common Guillemot Uria aalge, a monogamous seabird with biparental care. Using a novel mixed model approach, we analysed binary data on breeding success of each pair attempting to breed in each year with variables critical to breeding success (timing of breeding: inferred age; breeding experience and success; number of nest sites and partners) as fixed effects. Random effects for year, male, female and each distinct pairing of a male and female were included in the model, allowing a quality estimate to be derived for each individual and pair. A range of behaviours associated with breeding were examined in relation to these quality estimates.

3. Breeding success declined with timing of breeding , and increased initially with age before declining in old age. It increased with previous successful experience, not breeding experience per se, until senescence effects became apparent. For males, breeding success declined with increasing numbers of mates.

4. The most important behavioural determinants of quality operated at the level of the pair, with the time that mates spend together at the site and chick feeding rates both positively related to quality. At the individual level, trip durations and feeding rates were associated with female but not male quality, suggesting that pair quality was operating principally through the female. However, removal of laying date, the most important component in the binomial model, confirmed that the pair effect was much larger than the female effect.

5. This study demonstrates the potential of mixed modelling to determine quality estimates based on long-term breeding histories. The probability of a successful reproductive attempt was explained by the timing of breeding, age, successful breeding experience and number of mates. Behaviour was an important proximate mechanism underlying quality, in particular the foraging abilities of the pair, and the female's contribution to offspring provisioning. In species with biparental care, behavioural correlates of quality operate most strongly at the scale of the breeding pair, because contributions from both individuals are required for a successful outcome.

Keywords: biparental care, experience, individual quality, lifetime reproductive success, parental age


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