Antipredation behaviour of Arctic terns in Svalbard

Nest defence is one of the most important expression of breeding ecology of birds as it significantly increases fitness of parents. In the proposed experiment we plan to simulate occurrence of several predators and harmless species in colonies of Arctic terns to test the response to known and unknow predators of adults and nest contents.

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  • marine biology
  • terrestrial biology

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  • biological classification / animals/vertebrates / birds
  • biosphere / zoology

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Nest defence is one of the most important expressions of the breeding ecology of birds as it significantly increases the fitness of parents. They have to be able to identify predator appropriately because no response to a predator is lethal, while a strong response to non-predator is a waste of time and energy. Further, it is essential to appropriately respond to predators differing in the threat they represent to the nest content and to the parent birds. Colonially nesting Arctic terns are a perfect model for studying nest defence as it all members vigorously defend their nest against intruders. Their response to predators includes flyovers with diving towards intruder often finished with physical attacks. Another form of mobbing of predator includes precisely aimed defecation besides birds profusely vocalize. All these displays are multiplied by the fact that Arctic terns cooperate in the colony defence. Nest content of the Arctic tern is threatened by several mammalians (an Arctic fox, a polar bear, a weasel, a cat) and avian predators (a gull, a skua, corvids). Adults are hunted mainly by raptors (a gyrfalcon, a peregrine falcon). Nevertheless, the population of Arctic terns in archipelago Svalbard faces a significantly reduce spectrum of predators. Svalbard is one of the most isolated archipelagoes in the Arctic region and some of the otherwise widespread arctic species like a peregrine falcon, a snow owl or a raven do not occur there. In the proposed experiment we plan to simulate the occurrence of several predators in colonies of Arctic tern breeding in Svalbard. Different response to predators of adults and nest contents (eggs) will be tested by a presentation of a peregrine falcon and a great black-backed gull. To test the effect of familiarity with various nest predator species we will present a great black-backed gull occurring in Svalbard and a common raven that does not occur there. As a harmless control, we will use a common eider. All species will be presented as textile dummies. The experiment will consist of a successive presentation of all four dummies in random order. Each dummy will be presented ten minutes with at least a one-hour break between presentation. The bird responses will be recorded with hidden observer masked in the terrain. We plan to include the following behavioural responses to statistical analyses: number of birds anywhere in the air, number of flying birds in 10-15 meter, number of vocalizing individuals while sitting on the nest, number of restless birds sitting on the nest, number of flyovers in 10-15 metre, number of dives, number of dives with physical attack and percentage of dummy surface covered by faeces. Our experiment represents a non-invasive approach that represents a natural situation.

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