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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Quantifying egg attendance behaviours of wild Asian houbara can improve artificial incubation outcomes

Robert J. Burnside*, Scott A. Shaffer, Francesc Cusco, Masudur Rahman, Keith M. Scotland

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Artificial incubation is fundamental in ex situ avian conservation interventions for an increasing range of threatened species but incubation parameters can differ between species. Both egg-turning angle and frequency are critical for successful embryonic development, but measuring these parameters in wild birds has historically been difficult. Using data-loggers inside artificial eggs that accurately record parental egg attendance behaviours, we quantified turning angles and rates throughout the incubation of six nesting wild Asian houbara Chlamydotis macqueenii, a species bred in captivity in response to human over-exploitation. Wild females turned their eggs 0.6 times h–1 with a mean angle of 40.9° turn–1. Mimicking the patterns of wild birds (‘wild’ treatment), we applied a mean angular change of 40‒50° turn once per hour to artificially incubated eggs and compared this to eggs treated with an existing protocol (‘control’) of 120‒130° turn–1. Mean hatchability for the wild treatment (78.8%, n = 766) was similar to the control (76.6%, n = 1196). The wild treatment (n = 591) produced significantly heavier hatchlings (2.7%) than the control treatment (n = 893). However, chick growth rates (g d–1 and daily % mass change) and survival to day 10 were not different between groups. The wild treatment demonstrates that turning angles affect embryo development, and perhaps, hatchability. Investigating natural incubation behaviours using egg-loggers and applying these patterns to artificial incubation appears efficacious to achieve optimal incubation protocols and reducing the need for ex situ trial and error refinement in conservation interventions captive-breeding threatened bird species.