Incubation capacity contributes to constraints on maximal clutch size in Brent Geese Branta bernicla nigricans

Alan G. Leach, Amanda W. van Dellen, Thomas V. Riecke, James S. Sedinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Lack () proposed that clutch size in species with precocial young was determined by nutrients available to females at the time of egg formation; since then others have suggested that regulation of clutch size in these species may be more complex. We tested whether incubation limitation contributes to ultimate constraints on maximal clutch size in Black Brent Geese (Black Brant) Branta bernicla nigricans. Specifically, we investigated the relationship between clutch size and duration of the nesting period (i.e. days between nest initiation and the first pipped egg) and the number of goslings leaving the nest. We used experimental clutch manipulations to assess these questions because they allowed us to create clutches that were larger than the typical maximum of five eggs in this species. We found that the per-capita probability of egg success (i.e. the probability an egg hatched and the gosling left the nest) declined from 0.81 for two-egg clutches to 0.50 for seven-egg clutches. As a result of declining egg success, clutches containing more than five eggs produced, at best, only marginally more offspring. Manipulating clutch size at the beginning of incubation had no effect on the duration of the nesting period, but the nesting period increased with the number of eggs a female laid naturally prior to manipulation, from 25.4 days (95% CI 25.1–25.7) for three-egg clutches to 27.7 days (95% CI 27.3–28.1) for six-egg clutches. This delay in hatching may result in reduced gosling growth rates due to declining forage quality during the brood rearing period. Our results suggest that the strong right truncation of Brent clutches, which results in few clutches greater than five, is partially explained by the declining incubation capacity of females as clutch size increases and a delay in hatching with each additional egg laid. As a result, females laying clutches with more than five eggs would typically gain little fitness benefit above that associated with a five-egg clutch.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)588-599
Number of pages12
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2017


  • Branta bernicla nigricans
  • egg survival
  • hatchability
  • incubation limitation hypothesis
  • life-history trade-offs
  • nesting period
  • optimal clutch size


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