An experimental approach to the Brood Reduction Hypothesis in Magellanic Penguins

Barrionuevo, Melina; Frere, Esteban

27 February 2017

In many bird species, eggs in a brood hatch within days of each other, leading to a size asymmetry detrimental to younger siblings. Hatching asynchrony is often thought of as an adaptive strategy, and the most widely studied hypothesis in relation to this is the “Brood Reduction Hypothesis”. This hypothesis states that when food resources are unpredictable, hatching asynchrony will allow the adjustment of the brood size maximizing fledging success and benefitting parents. The Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) is an appropriate species to test this hypothesis because it has a 2-egg clutch that hatches over a 2-day interval with a broad range of variation (-1 to 4 days), it shows facultative brood reduction, and food abundance between breeding seasons is variable. We performed a manipulative study at Isla Quiroga, Argentina, during three breeding seasons (2010-2012) by forcing broods to hatch synchronously (0 days) or asynchronously (2 or 4 days). Years were categorized based on estimated food abundance. Our study provided mixed results because in the low estimated food abundance year asynchronous broods did not have higher nestling survival than synchronous broods, and the second-hatchling in asynchronous broods did not die more often than those in synchronous broods. On the other hand, younger siblings of 4-day asynchronous broods starved earlier than those of synchronous broods, and 2-day asynchronous broods fledged heavier young than synchronous broods. Asynchronous hatching would seem to benefit reproduction in this species, not with respect to survival, but in terms of the advantages it can accord to nestlings and, in terms of lower costs, for parents raising nestlings.