Reproductive decisions in the lesser black-backed gull Larus fuscus and their effects on reproductive success
The effect of several fundamental reproductive 'decisions' upon reproductive success were examined over a three year period at a large, inland gullery in the Pennines. Variations in reproductive parameters in relation to timing of breeding and reproductive success were compared among years. Determinants of the degree of hatching asynchrony were identified. Eggs from two years were taken for yolk lipid analysis, using gas chromatography. Variation in micronutrient content of eggs within clutches and between years was assessed in relation to egg size and yolk size, in order to examine resource allocation decisions of individuals. Timing of breeding of individuals was experimentally manipulated through the exchange of whole clutches of eggs between early and late laying birds, whilst controlling for variation in clutch size and egg-size, in order to assess whether the seasonal decrease in reproductive success was best explained by a decrease in food supply or differences in quality among parents. I experimentally manipulated the within-brood mass hierarchy of gulls, whilst controlling for variation in both chick quality and parental quality, in order to assess the effect of hatching asynchrony per se on chick growth and survival, and whether parents optimized the degree of hatching asynchrony with respect to the prevailing food supply. Brood size was experimentally reduced in order to assess the costs and benefits of the production of supernumary young. This was acheived by comparison of chick growth, feather development and chick survival of unmanipulated three-chick broods with broods where either the a-chick or the c- chick had been removed. I present a general discussion of the results within the context of life-history theory and a model for the evolution of hatching asynchrony in the lesser black-backed gull.