Royal Society Publishing

Synergistic effects of food and predators on annual reproductive success in song sparrows

Liana Zanette , James N. M. Smith , Harry van Oort , Michael Clinchy


The behaviour literature is full of studies showing that animals in every taxon balance the probability of acquiring food with the risk of being preyed upon. While interactions between food and predators clearly operate at an individual scale, population–scale studies have tended to focus on only one factor at a time. Consequently, interactive (or ‘synergistic’) effects of food and predators on whole populations have only twice before been experimentally demonstrated in mammals. We conducted a 2 × 2 experiment to examine the joint effects of food supply and predator pressure on the annual reproductive success of song sparrows (Melospiza melodia). Our results show that these two factors do not operate in an additive way, but instead have a synergistic effect on reproduction. Relative to controls, sparrows reared 1.1 more young when food was added and 1.3 more when predator pressure was low. When these treatments were combined 4.0 extra young were produced, almost twice as many as expected from an additive model. These results are a cause for optimism for avian conservation because they demonstrate that remedial actions, aimed at simultaneously augmenting food and reducing predators, can produce dramatic increases in reproductive success.

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