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. 2019 Feb 26;9(1):2776.
doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-39139-9.

Enduring Rules of Care Within Pairs - How Blue Tit Parents Resume Provisioning Behaviour After Experimental Disturbance

Free PMC article

Enduring Rules of Care Within Pairs - How Blue Tit Parents Resume Provisioning Behaviour After Experimental Disturbance

Arne Iserbyt et al. Sci Rep. .
Free PMC article


Sexual conflict over parental investment can result in suboptimal reproductive output. A recent hypothesis suggests that equality in investment, and hence conflict resolution, may be reached via coordination of parental activities like alternating nest visits. However, how robust patterns of care within couples are against temporal disturbances that create asymmetries in parental investment remains as yet to be shown. We here experimentally created such a social disturbance in a wild population of biparental blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) when provisioning their nestlings. We randomly caught and subsequently released one of the parents when nestlings were 6 and 12 days old respectively. On average, the parent that was caught did not resume care for nearly two hours. We then compared the levels of individual investment and within-pair coordination before, during and after the absence of the disturbed parent. We show that the remaining parent partially compensated by increasing its provisioning rate, but this compensatory response was strongest in females when nestlings were 6 days old. Once the caught parent returned to feed its nestlings, both parents resumed provisioning at a similar rate as before the disturbance. Likewise, the within-pair alternation level quickly resembled the pre-manipulated level, independent of nestling age or which sex was caught. Thus our experiment highlights the resilience of parental behaviour against temporal disturbances of individual parents.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no competing interests.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Blue tit parental feeding visits in unmanipulated conditions when nestlings are 7 and 13 days old (reference days). Nest visit rate for males (blue squares) and females (red dots) are given in panels A (day 7) and B (day 13). Panels C (day 7) and D (day 13) represent the proportion of all visits that are alternated within pairs, i.e. alternation level.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Individual change in visit rate from the ‘Control’ period relative to the period when the partner of the caught parent was ‘Alone’, and relative to the ‘Reunion’ period when the previously caught parent returned to the nest. The dotted horizontal lines indicate unaltered visit rates. The experiment was performed on day 6 (A) and day 12 (B) of the nestling period. Blue squares and red dots represent respectively males and females. Capture status (partner or individual itself) had no significant effect on the individual changes in visit rate and are therefore merged within each sex.
Figure 3
Figure 3
Limited within-pair changes in alternation levels from the ‘Control’ to the ‘Reunion’ period when nestlings were 6 and 12 days old. The dotted horizontal line indicates no changes in alternation in response to capturing the male (blue squares) or the female (red dots).

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