10 January 2017

Siblicide as a survival strategy

I examined the growth of surviving nestlings in broods of the cooperatively breeding laughing kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae, which has complex patterns of brood reduction. Laughing kookaburras usually lay three eggs that hatch asynchronously. Brood reduction occurs in nearly half of all broods and always affects the youngest nestling. In most cases, the youngest nestling is killed within a few days of hatching by aggressive attacks from its older siblings. In a smaller proportion of nests, the youngest nestling dies from starvation, rather than physical attack, much later in the nestling period when nestling growth rates and adult feeding rates peak (about 20 days post-hatching). These mechanistically and temporally distinct episodes of brood reduction were associated with very different patterns of growth in the senior nestlings. Seniors that killed their youngest sibling reached higher asymptotic weights than seniors that did not commit siblicide. In contrast, if the youngest nestling was not killed by its older siblings, but later starved to death, the surviving seniors were skeletally smaller and had retarded feather development compared to seniors from other broods. These differences in nestling growth may have longer-term fitness consequences, because kookaburra fledging weight is positively associated with both juvenile survival and successful recruitment into the breeding population. Therefore, although parents of broods without mortality produce the highest number of fledglings and also the highest number of independent juveniles, if parents are unable to raise a full brood, early siblicide may represent the best brood reduction option. Early siblicide is at least associated with high quality young that have enhanced survival and recruitment prospects. In contrast, the poor growth of seniors in broods where the youngest nestling starved suggests that parents overestimated the size of the brood they could provision.
The abstract of Legge, Sarah. “Siblicide, Starvation and Nestling Growth in the Laughing Kookaburra.” Journal of Avian Biology, vol. 33, no. 2, 2002, pp. 159–166.

See also fratricide and sororicide.  There are about 20 other "cides."  You can look them up.

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