Plasticity of moult and breeding schedules in migratory European Stonechats Saxicola rubicola

Flinkrs, H., Helm, B. and Rothery, P. (2008) Plasticity of moult and breeding schedules in migratory European Stonechats Saxicola rubicola. IBIS, 150(4), pp. 687-697. (doi: 10.1111/j.1474-919X.2008.00833.x)

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Timing is crucial in seasonal environments. Passerine birds typically use a combination of physiological mechanisms and environmental cues to ensure that breeding, moult and migration occur without major temporal overlap and under the most favourable conditions. However, late in the breeding season some individuals initiate additional clutches , whereas others initiate moult. Such alternative strategies are thought to reflect trade-offs between reproductive benefits and timely investment in maintenance and survival. The degree of seasonal plasticity differs between species, depending on the mechanisms that govern their annual routine. Migrants are generally under pressure to complete breeding and moult before the autumn departure and often show little plasticity. We studied seasonal plasticity of breeding and moult schedules in the European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola. This species, an obligate short-distance migrant in Central Europe, sometimes initiates late clutches after typically at least two earlier breeding attempts. Based on life-history theory and on observations in captivity, which revealed photoperiodic regulation of breeding and moult, we predicted relatively little seasonal plasticity in Stonechats. We further predicted that reproductive gains of late breeders should be offset by reduced survival. These predictions were tested on long-term field data, using Underhill–Zucchini models to estimate moult. Late breeding occurred in c. 40% of pairs and increased their reproductive success by a third. Both sexes modified moult timing but in different ways. Late breeding females postponed moult approximately until chick independence without compensating for delay by faster moult. Males started moult on time and overlapped it with breeding, associated with markedly slowed plumage change. Sex differences in moult score increased with lay date, but due to their respective modifications, both sexes delayed moult completion. Nonetheless, we could not detect any evidence for survival costs of late breeding. Breeding and moult of European Stonechats appear relatively flexible, despite migratory schedules and photoperiodic programs for seasonal timing. Individuals can modify seasonal behaviour in late summer, presumably depending on their condition, and may profit considerably from extended breeding.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Helm, Dr Barbara
Authors: Flinkrs, H., Helm, B., and Rothery, P.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
Journal Name:IBIS
Publisher:Wiley, for the British Ornithologists' Union
Published Online:10 June 2008

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