Multidimensional environmental influences on timing of breeding in a tree swallow population facing climate change

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Abstract

Most phenological traits are extremely sensitive to current climate change, and advances in the timing of important life-history events have been observed in many species. In birds, phenotypic plasticity in response to temperature is thought to be the main mechanism underlying yearly adjustment in the timing of breeding. However, other factors could be important and interact to affect the levels of plastic responses between and/or within-individuals. Here, we use long-term individual-based data on tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) to identify the spatial and environmental drivers affecting plasticity in laying date and to assess their importance at both population and individual levels. We found that laying date has advanced by 4.2 days over 10 years, and that it was mainly influenced by latitude and an interaction between spring temperature and breeder density. Analyses of individual plasticity showed that increases in temperature, but not in breeder density, resulted in within-individual advances in laying date. Our results suggest that females can adjust their laying date as a function of temperature, but that this adjustment will be partly constrained in habitats with lower breeder densities. Such potential constraint is especially worrying for the broad array of species already declining as a result of climate change.

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