Date of this Version
Published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 56 (2004), pp. 498–511
Little is known in general about how group size or ectoparasitism affect survival in colonial animals. We estimated daily within-season survival probabilities for nesting adult and recently fledged juvenile cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) at 239 colonies from 1983 to 2003 in southwestern Nebraska, USA. Some colonies had been fumigated to remove ectoparasites. We conducted mark-recapture at each colony site to estimate daily survival. There were no systematic differences between males and females in daily survival. Adults and juveniles occupying parasite-free colonies had, on average, 4.4% and 62.2% greater daily survival, respectively, than their counterparts in naturally infested colonies. Daily survival of all birds increased with colony size for both parasite-free colonies and those under natural conditions, although the effect was stronger for adults at fumigated sites and for juveniles. Average daily survival probability for adults tended to increase during warmer and drier summers. Although daily survival varied at some sites over the course of the nesting cycle, there were no strongly consistent within-year temporal effects on survival. Even small differences in daily survival probability can translate into large effects on mean lifespan. The deleterious effects of ectoparasites on daily survival within the season represent a previously unknown cost of ectoparasitism. The increase in within-season survival with colony size reflects the net effects of many costs and benefits associated with colony size. Ectoparasitism is probably the most important cost that tends to partly balance the positive effects of large colonies. The greater survival of cliff swallows in the larger colonies is a previously unknown advantage of colonial nesting.