Great tits trade off future competitive advantage for current reproduction

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Quantifying the fitness costs of reproduction is essential to understand the evolution of reproductive behavior. Recent work shows that increased reproductive investment reduced parental survival in more competitive environments. Here we experimentally test the hypothesis that reproductive investment has a negative effect on the ability of parents to compete for resources in later life. In a nest-box population of Great tits (Parus major), we manipulated family size by reducing or enlarging broods with 2 or 3 nestlings, relative to a control group, in 2 years (N = 237 broods). Parental feeding effort was positively related to experimental family size but leveled off for the enlarged broods. In the next breeding season we manipulated the nest box quality in early spring by reducing the depth of 80% of the nest boxes (deeper boxes are safer and preferred). We analyzed parents’ probability of obtaining a deep breeding box in relation to their previous year’s family size manipulation. We found for both years that increased reproductive investment negatively affected the probability of parents to claim a high-quality nest box in the subsequent breeding season. We thus confirm that family size has a negative effect on the future competitive ability of parents. Such carry-over effects are important because they show that selection on individual optimal clutch size will depend on 1) resource abundance and the level of competition in the next breeding season and 2) the reproductive investment of the competitors in the current breeding season because it affects their future competitive ability as well.

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