In birds, the timing of breeding is a key life-history trait with crucial fitness consequences. We predicted that parents may value a brood less if it hatched later than expected, thereby decreasing their parental effort. In addition, breeding effort would be further modulated by the age-specific decline of future breeding opportunities. We experimentally investigated whether snow petrels, Pagodroma nivea, were less committed to care for a chick that hatched later than expected. The timing of hatching was manipulated by swapping eggs between early and late known-age pairs (7-44 years old), and investigations on hormonal and behavioral adjustments were conducted. As a hormonal gauge of parental commitment to the brood, we measured the corticosterone stress response of guarding adults. Indeed, an acute stress response mediates energy allocation towards survival at the expense of current reproduction and is magnified when the current brood value is low, as it is expected to be in young and/or delayed parents. As predicted, egg desertion and the magnitude of the stress response was stronger in delayed pairs compared to control ones. However, the treatment did not decrease the length of the guarding period, chick condition and chick survival. In addition, old parents resisted stress better (lower stress-induced corticosterone levels) than young ones. Our study provides evidence that snow petrels, as prudent parents, may value a brood less if it hatched later than expected. Thus, in long-lived birds, the responsiveness to stressors appeared to be adjusted according to the individual prospect of future breeding opportunities (age) and to the current brood value (timing of breeding).
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