Evidence of the trade-off between starvation and predation risks in ducks

Cedric Zimmer, Mathieu Boos, Nicolas Poulin, Andrew Gosler, Odile Petit, Jean-Patrice Robin

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The theory of trade-off between starvation and predation risks predicts a decrease in body mass in order to improve flight performance when facing high predation risk. To date, this trade-off has mainly been validated in passerines, birds that store limited body reserves for short-term use. In the largest avian species in which the trade-off has been investigated (the mallard, Anas platyrhynchos), the slope of the relationship between mass and flight performance was steeper in proportion to lean body mass than in passerines. In order to verify whether the same case can be applied to other birds with large body reserves, we analyzed the response to this trade-off in two other duck species, the common teal (Anas crecca) and the tufted duck (Aythya fuligula). Predation risk was simulated by disturbing birds. Ducks within disturbed groups were compared to non-disturbed control birds. In disturbed groups, both species showed a much greater decrease in food intake and body mass during the period of simulated high risk than those observed in the control group. This loss of body mass allows reaching a more favourable wing loading and increases power for flight, hence enhancing flight performances and reducing predation risk. Moreover, body mass loss and power margin gain in both species were higher than in passerines, as observed in mallards. Our results suggest that the starvation-predation risk trade-off is one of the major life history traits underlying body mass adjustments, and these findings can be generalized to all birds facing predation. Additionally, the response magnitude seems to be influenced by the strategy of body reserve management.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere22352
Number of pages11
JournalPLoS One
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jul 2011


  • Predation risk
  • Trade-off
  • Starvation
  • Body mass
  • Flight performance
  • Common teal
  • Tufted duck
  • Food intake
  • Body reserve management


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