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Concept: Breeding season


Although models of co-evolution between brood parasites and their hosts primarily focus upon the cost to hosts in the current reproductive bout, the impact of brood parasitism may carry-over to future reproductive attempts by altering resource allocation. Glucocorticoid stress hormones help mediate resource allocation to reproduction, yet they have rarely been examined in brood parasitic systems. Here we determined if shifts in parental care and corticosterone had carry-over effects on future reproductive effort in the rufous-and-white wren (Thryophilus rufalbus), a host of the Central American striped cuckoo (Tapera naevia). We found that parasitized parents had significantly higher stress-induced, but not baseline, corticosterone than natural parents during the fledgling stage, which was associated with changes in parental care. The high investment in current reproduction while parasitized may be due to the value of fledged chicks in tropical systems. This maladaptive response by parasitized parents was associated with delayed re-nesting and a reduced likelihood of nesting in the subsequent breeding season. Although a reduction in future reproductive effort can result from a combination of factors, this work suggests that fitness costs of brood parasitism are mediated by changes in corticosterone and parental care behavior that carry-over into subsequent breeding seasons.

Concepts: Reproduction, Cuckoo, Breeding season, Kleptoparasitism, Common Cuckoo, Brood parasite, Brood parasites, Striped Cuckoo


Life history theory predicts that mothers should adjust reproductive investment depending on benefits of current reproduction and costs of reduced future reproductive success. These costs and benefits may in turn depend on the breeding female’s social environment. Cooperative breeders provide an ideal system to test whether changes in maternal investment are associated with the social conditions mothers experience. As alloparental helpers assist in offspring care, larger groups might reduce reproductive costs for mothers or alternatively indicate attractive conditions for reproduction. Thus, mothers may show reduced (load-lightening) or increased (differential allocation) reproductive investment in relation to group size. A growing number of studies have investigated how cooperatively breeding mothers adjust pre-natal investment depending on group size. Our aim was to survey these studies to assess, first, whether mothers consistently reduce or increase pre-natal investment when in larger groups and, second, whether these changes relate to variation in post-natal investment.

Concepts: Human, Male, Reproduction, Female, Life, Reproductive system, Breeding season, Life history theory


Supplementation of food to wild birds occurs on an enormous scale worldwide, and is often cited as an exemplar of beneficial human-wildlife interaction. Recently it has been speculated that winter feeding could have negative consequences for future reproduction, for example by enabling low quality individuals to recruit into breeding populations. However, evidence that winter feeding has deleterious impacts on reproductive success is lacking. Here, in a landscape-scale study of blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) across multiple years, we show that winter food supplementation reduced breeding performance the following spring. Compared to unfed populations, winter-fed birds produced offspring that weighed less, were smaller, and had lower survival. This impairment was observed in parents that had received fat only, or in combination with vitamin E, suggesting some generality in the mechanism by which supplementary feeding affected reproduction. Our results highlight the potential for deleterious population-level consequences of winter food supplementation on wild birds.

Concepts: Reproduction, Nutrition, Bird, Tit, Blue Tit, Breeding season, Cyanistes, Azure Tit


In cereal breeding programs, improved yield potential and stability are ultimate goals when developing new varieties. To facilitate achieving these goals, reproductive success under stressful growing conditions is of the highest priority. In recent times, small RNA (sRNA)-mediated pathways have been associated with the regulation of genes involved in stress adaptation and reproduction in both model plants and several cereals. Reproductive and physiological traits such as flowering time, reproductive branching, and root architecture can be manipulated by sRNA regulatory modules. We review sRNA-mediated pathways that could be exploited to expand crop diversity with adaptive traits and, in particular, the development of high-yielding stress-tolerant cereals: SMARTER cereal breeding through ‘Small RNA-Mediated Adaptation of Reproductive Targets in Epigenetic Regulation’.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Reproduction, Organism, Life, RNA, Breeding season, Crops


Individuals allocate considerable amounts of energy to movement, which ultimately affects their ability to survive and reproduce. Birds fly by flapping their wings, which is dependent on the chemical energy produced by muscle work, or use soaring-gliding flight, in which chemical energy is replaced with energy harvested from moving air masses, such as thermals. Flapping flight requires more energy than soaring-gliding flight, and this difference in the use of energy increases with body mass. However, soaring-gliding results in lower speeds than flapping, especially for small species. Birds therefore face a trade-off between energy and time costs when deciding which flight strategy to use. Raptors are a group of large birds that typically soar. As relatively light weight raptors, falcons can either soar on weak thermals or fly by flapping with low energy costs. In this paper, we study the flight behavior of the insectivorous lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni) during foraging trips and the influence of solar radiation, which we have adopted as a proxy for thermal formation, on kestrel flight variables. We tracked 35 individuals from two colonies using high frequency GPS-dataloggers over four consecutive breeding seasons. Contrary to expectations, kestrels relied heavily on thermal soaring when foraging, especially during periods of high solar radiation. This produced a circadian pattern in the kestrel flight strategy that led to a spatial segregation of foraging areas. Kestrels flapped towards foraging areas close to the colony when thermals were not available. However, as soon as thermals were formed, they soared on them towards foraging areas far from the colony, especially when they were surrounded by poor foraging habitats. This reduced the chick provisioning rate at the colony. Given that lesser kestrels have a preference for feeding on large insects, and considering the average distance they cover to capture them during foraging trips, to commute using flapping flight would result in a negative energy balance for the family group. Our results show that lesser kestrels prioritize saving energy when foraging, suggesting that kestrels are more energy than time-constrained during the breeding season.

Concepts: Energy, Sun, Mass, Falcon, Breeding season, Falco, Common Kestrel, Lesser Kestrel


Species with variable mating systems provide a unique opportunity to investigate whether females receive direct fitness benefits from additional male partners. The direct benefits provide an obvious explanation for why females would breed polyandrously, in a situation where males clearly do not attain their optimal reproductive success. Evidence for these direct benefits is, however, mixed. Here, we present a detailed study of the breeding biology of the dunnock, Prunella modularis, which inform an investigation into the effects of the social mating system on the reproductive success in a population of dunnocks in Southern New Zealand. We studied 80 different social groups over the course of three breeding seasons. Dunnocks in our population presented a variable mating system, with socially monogamous (45%), socially polyandrous (54%) and socially polygynandrous (1%) groups being observed in the same breeding season. We did not observe any polygynous social units in our study period although polygyny exists in the population. We found little difference in the numbers of eggs laid, and egg volume between monogamous and polyandrous nests. However, polyandrous groups had better hatching and fledging success than monogamous groups (composite d = 0.385, 95% CI: 0.307 to 0.463). Overall our results support the notion that polyandry is beneficial for females.

Concepts: Male, Reproduction, Polygamy, Breeding season, Polyandry, Polygyny, Mating system, Mating systems


Marine predators, such as seabirds, are useful indicators of marine ecosystem functioning. In particular, seabird diet may reflect variability in food-web composition due to natural or human-induced environmental change. Diet monitoring programmes, which sample diet non-invasively, are valuable aids to conservation and management decision-making. We investigated the diet of an increasing population of greater crested terns Thalasseus bergii in the Western Cape, South Africa, during three successive breeding seasons (2013 to 2015), when populations of other seabirds feeding on small pelagic schooling fish in the region were decreasing. Breeding greater crested terns carry prey in their bills, so we used an intensive photo-sampling method to record their diet with little disturbance. We identified 24,607 prey items from at least 47 different families, with 34 new prey species recorded. Fish dominated the diet, constituting 94% of prey by number, followed by cephalopods (3%), crustaceans (2%) and insects (1%). The terns mainly targeted surface-schooling Clupeiformes, with anchovy Engraulis encrasicolus the most abundant prey in all three breeding seasons (65% overall). Prey composition differed significantly between breeding stages and years, with anchovy most abundant at the start of the breeding season, becoming less frequent as the season progressed. The proportion of anchovy in the diet also was influenced by environmental factors; anchovy occurred more frequently with increasing wind speeds and was scarce on foggy days, presumably because terns rely in part on social facilitation to locate anchovy schools. The application of this intensive and non-invasive photo-sampling method revealed an important degree of foraging plasticity for this seabird within a context of locally reduced food availability, suggesting that, unlike species that specialise on a few high-quality prey, opportunistic seabirds may be better able to cope with reductions in the abundance of their preferred prey.

Concepts: Predation, Bird, Seabird, Breeding season, Seasons, Forage fish, Tern, Engraulis


In species with biparental care both members of the breeding pair cooperate to raise the offspring either by assisting each other in every reproductive task or by specializing in different ones. The latter case is known as reproductive role specialization. Raptors are considered one of the most role-specialized groups, but little is known about parental behavior away from the nest. Until the advent of biologgers, avian role specialization was traditionally studied with direct observations at the nest because of the difficulties of following and recording the behavior of free-ranging individuals. In this paper we analyze how the role specialization of the lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni) influences foraging movement patterns throughout the breeding season. We tracked 30 lesser kestrel breeders from two breeding colonies using high-frequency GPS-dataloggers during four consecutive breeding seasons.

Concepts: Reproduction, Bird, Falcon, Breeding season, Seasons, Falco, Common Kestrel, Lesser Kestrel


The Pyrenean rock ptarmigan (Lagopus muta pyrenaica) is the southernmost subspecies of the species in Europe and is considered threatened as a consequence of changes in landscape, human pressure, climate change, and low genetic diversity. Previous studies have shown a relationship between the date of snowmelt and reproductive success in the Pyrenean ptarmigan. It is well established that birds laying early in the breeding season have higher reproductive success, but the specific mechanism for this relationship is debated. We present an explicative model of the relationship between snowmelt date and breeding success mediated by food quality for grouse in alpine environments. From microhistological analyses of 121 faecal samples collected during three years in the Canigou Massif (Eastern Pyrenees), and the assessment of the chemical composition of the main dietary components, we estimated the potential quality of individual diets. Potential dietary quality was correlated with free-urate faecal N, a proxy of the digestible protein content ingested by ptarmigan, and both were correlated with phenological stage of consumed plants, which in turn depends on snowmelt date. Our findings suggest that the average snowmelt date is subject to a strong interannual variability influencing laying date. In years of early snowmelt, hens benefit from a longer period of high quality food resources potentially leading to a higher breeding success. On the contrary, in years of late snowmelt, hens begin their breeding period in poorer nutrient condition because the peaks of protein content of their main food items are delayed with respect to laying date, hence reducing breeding performance. We discuss the possible mismatch between breeding and snowmelt timing.

Concepts: Protein, Human, Reproduction, Nutrition, Breeding season, Grouse, Pyrenees, White-tailed Ptarmigan


Social and genetic mating systems play an important role in natural and sexual selection, as well as in the dynamics of populations. In socially monogamous species different genetic mating patterns appear when individuals mate outside the breeding pair within a breeding season (extra-pair mating) or when they change partners between two breeding seasons (widowing or divorce). Divorce can be defined as having occurred when two previously paired individuals are alive during the next breeding season and at least one of them has re-mated with a new partner. In socially monogamous birds divorce is widespread, but it is not clear whether it is a behavioural adaptation to improve the quality of a mating decision or whether, alternatively, it results as a non-selected consequence of other processes: existing studies suggest a heterogeneous set of results with respect to this central question. This heterogeneity could result from a number of factors, ranging from the methodological approaches used, to population- or species-specific characters. In this review we use phylogenetic meta-analyses to assess the evidence that divorce is adaptive (in terms of breeding success) across 64 species of socially monogamous birds. Second, we explore biological and methodological reasons for the heterogeneity in the results of previous studies. Results of our analyses supported the hypothesis that divorce is, in general, an adaptive behavioural strategy as: (1) divorce is triggered by relatively low breeding success; (2) there is a positive change in breeding success as a result of divorce. More specifically, while controlling for methodological moderators, we show that: (i) earlier stages of breeding are better predictors of divorce than later stages (r = 0.231; 95% CI: 0.061-0.391 for clutch size; similar for laying date); (ii) females benefited from divorce more than males in terms of increasing breeding success between successive breeding attempts, with different stages of the breeding cycle improving at different rates (e.g. r = 0.637; 95% CI: 0.328-0.817 for brood-level measures). We show that the effect size was dependent on the methodological approach used across studies and argue that research on the adaptive nature of divorce should be cautious when designing the study and interpreting the results. Altogether, by providing strong evidence that divorce is an adaptive strategy across monogamous birds, the results of our analysis provide a firm ground for further exploration of external covariates of divorce (e.g. demographic factors) and the mechanisms underlying the differences in the effect sizes of the proximal fitness causes and consequences of divorce.

Concepts: Reproduction, Bird, Effect size, Monogamy, Meta-analysis, Breeding season, Mating system, Breeding in the wild