Incubation Temperature and Social Context Affect Nest Exodus Performance of Precocial Ducklings

Meeting Abstract

27-5  Thursday, Jan. 4 14:30 – 14:45  Incubation Temperature and Social Context Affect Nest Exodus Performance of Precocial Ducklings HOPE, SF*; KENNAMER, RA; VAN MONTFRANS, SG; HOPKINS, WA; Virginia Tech; University of Georgia; William Fleming High School, Roanoke, VA; Virginia Tech

The environment that animals experience during development can have major fitness consequences. In birds, parents influence the developmental environment of their offspring through incubation. Subtle changes in incubation temperature affect offspring morphology and physiology, yet, little is known about how it may affect critical performance metrics. Further, performance is influenced by behavior, which can be affected by the social environment. We investigated whether incubation temperature and social context influence a critical early-life performance task in wood ducks. Wood ducks nest in tree cavities and, shortly after hatching, ducklings must jump and climb out of the cavity. Failure to do so in the wild is fatal. We incubated eggs at different temperatures and examined whether incubation temperature influenced the number of jumps, climbs, and the exit success of ducklings tested individually and in mixed-incubation temperature pairs. When tested individually, ducklings incubated at 35°C were 57% less successful at exiting the nest, and jumped and climbed less often, than those incubated at 35.8°C. However, social context mitigated these effects and there was no difference in exit success or associated behaviors when ducklings were tested in pairs. Further, after one duckling in the pair exited the nest, the remaining duckling jumped and climbed more often, suggesting that social interactions increased motivation. This demonstrates that offspring performance and behavior are affected by incubation temperature, which is especially important because human-induced environmental changes can affect parental incubation behavior. However, in some cases, social interactions may mitigate these negative effects.

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