Tropical birds offer unique opportunities to test ecological and evolutionary theory because their life history traits are so diverse and different from temperate zone models upon which most empirical studies are based. We review recent studies on the behavioral ecology of tropical birds, studies that explore new advances in this field. Life histories and their evolution remain the focus of research on tropical birds. Clutch size manipulations in two species showed that food limitation does not explain small clutch size. In antbirds, enlarged clutches decreased post-fledging survival whereas in thrushes, enlarged broods were costly due to high nest predation. Small clutches may be favored via different ultimate selective forces and shared underlying tradeoffs between the immune, metabolic, and endocrine systems in the body may account for the commonly observed ‘slow pace of life’ in tropical birds. The physiological tradeoff between testosterone and immunocompetence may explain the evolution of low testosterone levels in tropical passerines where adult survival is paramount. In contrast to life history theory, few studies have explored temperate-tropical differences in territoriality, mating systems, and song function. The idea that low breeding synchrony in tropical birds is associated with low levels of extra-pair fertilizations was supported by several new paternity studies conducted on tropical passerines. Seasonally breeding tropical birds have higher testosterone levels than tropical birds with prolonged breeding seasons, although it is unclear if this pattern is driven by mating systems per se or selection from pathogens. Recent work on relations between pair members in permanently paired tropical passerines focuses on the question of mate defense versus territorial defense and the extent of cooperation versus selfish interests in inter-sexual relations.
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Vol. 120 • No. 1