Parental provisioning in a variable environment: Evaluation of three foraging currencies and a state variable model

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SummaryWe estimated the reproductive success of black terns (Chlidonias niger) based on three optimal foraging currencies (maximizing the net rate of energy intake, daily delivery rate, and efficiency, respectively) and a state variable model. There was a broad range of capture intervals (the time required for the parent to capture a single prey) when the flight speeds predicted by the three currencies were so high that they resulted in daily provisioning costs which parents could not fully recover through self-feeding. Whenever the efficiency currency produced higher estimates of reproductive success, parents lost comparatively less weight than when they foraged as rate-maximizers. If parents did not experience any weight loss, the net rate and efficiency currencies made equivalent fitness projections. However, both of these currencies provided lower fitness returns than daily delivery rate at longer capture intervals. There were a number of capture intervals when estimates of reproductive success from the state variable model and at least one of the foraging currencies were equal. Provisioning behaviour under the state variable model was much more flexible and parents were therefore able to reduce their self-feeding rate on days when food was particularly scarce, thereby increasing the total delivery to the nest. This resulted in higher fitness returns than was possible under the foraging currencies. Our results suggest that efficiency-maximizing is more likely to provide fitness returns that are equivalent to the state variable model in comparison with the rate-maximizing alternatives. Furthermore, only the efficiency currency and the state variable model made predictions of flight speed that were similar to speeds measured in black tern parents provisioning young at natural nests.

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