Offspring desertion with care? Chick mortality and plastic female desertion in Snowy Plovers

Krisztina Kupán, Tamás Székely, Medardo Cruz-López, Keeley Seymour, Clemens Küpper

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8 Citations (SciVal)


Offspring desertion is often a plastic behavioral strategy that requires precise timing as the termination of parental care may have profound consequences for the fitness of parents and offspring. However, the decision process involved with termination of care is still poorly understood. Snowy Plovers Charadrius nivosus show highly flexible brood care with some females deserting the brood early and re-mate, whereas others provide extended care until the young are independent. Using a dynamic modeling framework, we investigated the effect of multiple factors on the decision-making process of female brood care in Ceuta, Mexico over a 7-year period. Females were more likely to stay with larger broods, while their probability of care was lower at the beginning of the season, when re-mating opportunities are higher than later in the season. Offspring condition at hatching did not influence the length of female care. Chick death and offspring desertion frequently coincided, suggesting that deteriorating offspring condition may trigger female desertion. Females deserted broods with high survival prospects when their absence did not impact negatively chick survival. Conversely, females deserted broods with low survival prospects when chick mortality despite female care reduced the value of the brood and re-mating was still possible. This suggests that female Snowy Plovers are sensitive to the needs and the value of their broods and adjust their parental care strategy accordingly. Taken together, we conclude that offspring desertion is a highly plastic behavior that allows females to maximize their reproductive success in a stochastic environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)428-439
Number of pages12
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number3
Early online date8 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
A list of funding sources for fieldwork is provided on K.K. and C.K. are supported by the Max Planck Society. T.S. was funded by a Royal Society Wolfson Merit Award (WM170050) and by the National Research, Development and Innovation Office of Hungary (?LVONAL KKP-126949, K-116310).

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • behavioral plasticity
  • offspring desertion
  • parental care strategies
  • polyandry
  • reproductive success
  • trade-off

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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