Nest microclimate during incubation affects posthatching development and parental care in wild birds


It is widely accepted that recent increases in environmental temperature have had a causal effect on changing life histories; however, much of the evidence for this is derived from long-term observations, whereas inferences of causation require experimentation. Here, we assess effects of increased environmental temperature during incubation on posthatching development, nestling begging and parental care, and reproductive success in two wild, cavity-nesting songbirds, the Carolina wren and prothonotary warbler. We heated experimental nests only during incubation, which increased nest-cavity temperature by ca. 1 °C. This reduced the length of the incubation and nestling periods, and reduced fledging success in prothonotary warblers, while nestling Carolina wrens had similar fledging success but reduced body condition in response to increased temperature. Increased nest-cavity temperature during incubation also reduced posthatching begging by nestlings generally and parental care within Carolina wrens specifically, suggesting potential mechanisms generating these carry-over effects. Offspring body mass and fledging age are often predictive of post-fledging survival and recruitment. Thus, our results suggest that increasing temperatures may affect fitness in wild populations in species-specific ways, and induce life-history changes including the classic trade-off parents face between the size and number of offspring.

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Scientific Reports