Grüebler, M. U. & B. Naef-Daenzer (2010)

Fitness consequences of timing of breeding in birds: date effects in the course of a reproductive episode.

Further information

J. Avian Biol. 41: 282–291



In seasonal environments, avian reproductive performance almost generally declines in the course of the season. Quantifying the associated fitness consequences of timing of breeding, i.e. of date-related factors, is important for understanding the evolution of temporal patterns in avian life-histories and for predicting consequences of climate change. The seasonal decline can also be caused by an effect of parental quality: individuals with high phenotypic quality may breed early. The results of existing experimental studies investigating whether date or quality effects cause the seasonal decline are inconsistent, indicating that both mechanisms might be involved. However, it remains unclear to what extent the confounding effect of quality occurs and what the fitness consequences of timing per se over a whole breeding episode are. In a cross-fostering experiment using the barns wallows’ second broods we evaluated the causes for the seasonal decline in reproductive performance for three distinct periods of a reproductive attempt, the early nestling period, the late nestling period and the post-fledging period, and we assessed the overall fitness consequences of timing per se. A seasonal decline in juvenile feather growth rate was mainly due to date effects in the late nestling period, although we determined quality effects during early nestling development. Date effects on survival were present in the post-fledging period, but not in the nestling period. The decline in feather length due to date effects in the nestling period accounted for 9% of the seasonal decline in post-fledging survival, whereas date effects arising only in the post-fledging period caused 91% of the decline. These results suggest that date effects increase in the course of a reproductive episode. Thus, the benefits of a nearly timing of breeding can be quantified only when considering also the post-fledging period. We suggest that the timing of breeding evolved through a trade-off between date-related benefits and quality-related costs of early breeding.