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Brain mass explains prey size selection better than beak, gizzard and body size in a benthivorous duck species

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Prey size selection in some bird species is determined by the size of the beak. However, we assumed for bird species swallowing whole prey that a cognitive process may be involved. As cognitive feature, brain mass was used. We hypothesized that the mass of the brain was more strongly positively correlated with prey size than morphological features such as beak volume, gizzard mass and body mass. We tested this hypothesis on eiders Somateria mollissima that swallow the prey whole, by using mean and maximum size of nine prey categories. Eiders were collected at the main wintering grounds in Denmark. As index of brain mass we used head volume, which is positively correlated with brain mass (r2 = 0.73). Head volume of eiders was significantly, positive correlated with mean and maximum size of blue mussels Mytilus edulis, razor clams Ensis directus and all prey sizes combined and the maximum size of draft whelk Hinia reticulata and conch Buccinum undatum. Gizzard mass was also significantly positively correlated with maximum size of draft whelk and conch. Beak volume and body mass was not significantly correlated with the size of any of the nine food items. Analyses of effect size for organs showed that head volume was positively related to prey size, whereas beak volume, gizzard mass and body mass did not show a significant positive relationship. These results indicate that cognitive processes connected to brain mass may be involved in prey size selection by eiders.

TidsskriftPLOS ONE
Antal sider10
StatusUdgivet - mar. 2021

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