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Effects of Supplementary Feeding on the Breeding Ecology of the Buff-Throated Partridge in a Tibetan Sacred Site, China

Nan, Y and Moermond, T and Lloyd, H and Yu, X and Liang, D and Kai, Z and Bisong, Y and Jianghong, R (2016) Effects of Supplementary Feeding on the Breeding Ecology of the Buff-Throated Partridge in a Tibetan Sacred Site, China. PLoS One. ISSN 1932-6203

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Abstract

Our goal was to document effects of year-round supplemental feeding on breeding ecology of the Buff-throated Partridge, Tetraophasis szechenyii, within a Tibetan sacred site. We evaluated effects of supplemental feeding used as religious/cultural practices which could potentially aid conservation of endangered phasianids. We compared fed breeding groups to neighboring nonfed groups. Fed groups initiated first clutches significantly earlier than nonfed groups. Earlier laying groups within fed and nonfed groups showed significantly lower hatching rates than later groups; however, fed groups showed significantly higher hatching rates than nonfed groups laying in the same period. Earlier laying increased opportunities to renest. All six fed groups with clutch failures renested compared to only one of five nonfed groups with clutch failures. Fed female breeders showed significantly greater investment in their young with larger clutches and larger eggs, which likely increased survivability of early hatchlings. We observed no predation on birds at feeding sites and recorded only four cases of predation on incubating females, which showed no detectable difference between fed and nonfed groups. Ground-nesting birds typically face high risks of predation. Ten of the 48 groups nested in trees, which occurs in few phasianid species. Tree nests showed significantly higher hatching rates compared to ground nests; however, we found no significant difference in tree nesting between fed and nonfed groups. This partridge is one of four gallinaceous species with cooperative breeding. Breeding groups with helpers had significantly greater reproductive success than single pairs, and fed female breeders with helpers laid bigger eggs than single pairs. Comparing annual reproductive output per group, fed groups not only produced significantly more independent young (≥150 days post-hatching), their young hatched significantly earlier, which likely have greater reproductive value over later hatched young of nonfed groups. Supplemental feeding year-round is likely what enabled the successes of the fed partridges.

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