Brood size, sibling competition, and the cost of begging in great tits (Parus major)

Neuenschwander, Samuel ; Brinkhof, Martin W. G. ; Kölliker, Mathias ; Richner, Heinz

In: Behavioral Ecology, 2003, vol. 14, no. 4, p. 457-462

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    Evolutionary theory of parent-offspring conflict explains begging displays of nestling birds as selfish attempts to influence parental food allocation. Models predict that this conflict may be resolved by honest signaling of offspring need to parents, or by competition among nestmates, leading to escalated begging scrambles. Although the former type of models has been qualitatively supported by experimental studies, the potential for a begging component driven by scramble competition cannot be excluded by the evidence. In a brood-size manipulation experiment with great tits, Parus major, we explored the scramble component in the begging activity of great tit nestlings by investigating the mechanisms of sibling competition in relation to brood size. While under full parental compensation, the feeding rate per nestling will remain constant over all brood sizes for both types of models; the scramble begging models alone predict an increase in begging intensity with brood size, if begging costs do not arise exclusively through predation. Great tit parents adjusted feeding rates to brood size and fed nestlings at similar rates and with similar prey sizes in all three brood-size categories. Despite full parental compensation, the begging and food solicitation activities increased with experimental brood size, whereas nestling body condition deteriorated. These findings support a scramble component in begging and suggest that the competition-induced costs of food solicitation behavior play an important role in the evolution of parent-offspring communication