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Costs of Reproduction in Breeding Female Mallards: Predation Risk during Incubation Drives Annual Mortality

Keywords: Anas platyrhynchos , cost of reproduction , incubation , Mallard , mortality , nesting , predation , reproductive effort , telemetry

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The effort expended on reproduction may entail future costs, such as reduced survival or fecundity, and these costs can have an important influence on life-history optimization. For birds with precocial offspring, hypothesized costs of reproduction have typically emphasized nutritional and energetic investments in egg formation and incubation. We measured seasonal survival of 3856 radio-marked female Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) from arrival on the breeding grounds through brood-rearing or cessation of breeding. There was a 2.5-fold direct increase in mortality risk associated with incubating nests in terrestrial habitats, whereas during brood-rearing when breeding females occupy aquatic habitats, mortality risk reached seasonal lows. Mortality risk also varied with calendar date and was highest during periods when large numbers of Mallards were nesting, suggesting that prey-switching behaviors by common predators may exacerbate risks to adults in all breeding stages. Although prior investments in egg laying and incubation affected mortality risk, most relationships were not consistent with the cost of reproduction hypothesis; birds with extensive prior investments in egg production or incubation typically survived better, suggesting that variation in individual quality drove both relationships. We conclude that for breeding female Mallards, the primary cost of reproduction is a fixed cost associated with placing oneself at risk to predators while incubating nests in terrestrial habitats.


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