The role of group size and environmental factors on survival in a cooperatively breeding tropical passerine

Lyanne Brouwer, David S. Richardson, Cas Eikenaar, Jan Komdeur

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82 Citations (Scopus)


1. Variation in survival, a major determinant of fitness, may be caused by individual or environmental characteristics. Furthermore, interactions between individuals may influence survival through the negative feedback effects of density dependence. Compared to species in temperate regions, we have little knowledge about population processes and variation in fitness in tropical bird species.

2. To investigate whether variation in survival could be explained by population size or climatic variables we used capture–recapture models in conjunction with a long-term data set from an island population of the territorial, cooperatively breeding Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis). The lack of migration out of the study population means that our results are not confounded by dispersal.

3. Annual survival was high, both for adults (84%) and juveniles (61%), and did not differ between the sexes. Although there was significant variation in survival between years, this variation could not be explained by overall population size or weather variables.

4. For territorial species, resource competition will work mainly on a local scale. The size of a territory and number of individuals living in it will therefore be a more appropriate measure of density than overall population density. Consequently, both an index of territory quality per individual (food availability) and local density, measured as group size, were included as individual covariates in our analyses.

5. Local density had a negative effect on survival; birds living in larger groups had lower survival probabilities than those living in small groups. Food availability did not affect survival.

6. Our study shows that, in a territorial species, although density-dependent effects might not be detectable at the population level they can be detected at the individual territory level − the scale at which individuals compete. These results will help to provide a better understanding of the small-scale processes involved in the dynamics of a population in general, but in particular in tropical species living in relatively stable environments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1321-1329
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2006

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