Quantifying egg attendance behaviours of wild Asian houbara can improve artificial incubation outcomes

Robert J. Burnside, Scott A. Shaffer, Francesc Cuscó, Masudur Rahman, Keith M. Scotland

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Artificial incubation is fundamental in ex situ avian conservation interventions for an increasing range of threatened species, but incubation parameters can differ between species. Both egg-turning angle and frequency are critical for successful embryonic development, but measuring these parameters in wild birds has historically been difficult. Using data-loggers inside artificial eggs that accurately record parental egg attendance behaviours, we quantified turning angles and rates throughout the incubation of 6 nesting wild Asian houbaras Chlamydotis macqueenii, a species bred in captivity in response to human over-exploitation. Wild females turned their eggs 0.6 times h-1 with a mean angle of 40.9° turn-1. Mimicking the patterns of wild birds (‘wild’ treatment), we applied a mean angular change of 40-50° turn once h-1 to artificially incubated eggs and compared this to eggs treated with an existing protocol (‘control’) of 120-130° per turn. Mean hatchability for the wild treatment (78.8%, n = 766) was similar to the control (76.6%, n = 1196). The wild treatment (n = 591) produced significantly heavier hatchlings (2.7%) than the control treatment (n = 893). However, chick growth rates (g d-1 and daily % mass change) and survival to Day 10 were not different between groups. The wild treatment demonstrates that turning angles affect embryo development and, perhaps, hatchability. Investigating natural incubation behaviours using egg-loggers and applying these patterns to artificial incubation appears efficacious to achieve optimal incubation protocols and reduce the need for ex situ trial and error refinement in conservation interventions of captive-bred threatened bird species.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-204
Number of pages12
JournalEndangered Species Research
Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2021

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