Why are there so many empty lakes? food limits survival of mallard ducklings

Gunnar Gunnarsson, Johan Elmberg, Kjell Sjöberg, Hannu Pöysä, Petri Nummi

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    Food is an important factor affecting survival in many bird species, but this relationship has rarely been explored experimentally with respect to reproductive output of precocial birds. In a field experiment we tested the hypothesis that food abundance limits reproductive output in breeding dabbling ducks. Onto 10 oligotrophic lakes in northern Sweden we introduced one wing-clipped female mallard (Anas platyrhynchos L., 1758) and a brood of 10 newly hatched ducklings, and survival was monitored for 24 days. Food was added ad libitum at five of the lakes, but not at the other five. Duckling survival was best modelled to include a treatment effect, with higher survival on lakes with food added, and a negative effect of harsh weather. As expected, duckling survival increased nonlinearly with age. Only one female remained on control lakes after 24 days, whereas four remained on lakes with food added. This is the first experimental demonstration that food may limit survival and reproductive output in breeding precocial birds. We argue that food limitation may be one reason why duckling mortality is high and why many lakes throughout the Holarctic have no breeding dabbling ducks.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1698-1703
    Number of pages5
    JournalCanadian Journal of Zoology
    Issue number11
    Publication statusPublished - 2004

    Swedish Standard Keywords

    • Biological Sciences (106)


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