1. The effects of temperature on the Oak–Winter Moth–Tit food chain were studied at Wytham Wood, Oxford, and experimentally in the controlled environment solardomes at the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Bangor.
2. Tree cores from Wytham indicated that mature Oaks grew best at high temperatures and rainfall, but with low caterpillar populations. Young trees grew less well at elevated temperature, probably because they lost more water than they gained. Elevated temperatures advanced budburst, reduced foliar nitrogen and increased leaf toughness.
3. Moth eggs laid later or maintained at cooler temperatures than average required fewer heat units to hatch. Caterpillars took up to 50 days to complete growth at field temperatures but did so in only 20 days at a constant 15 °C.
4. The mass of Tit chicks at day 15 (day 1 = egg hatch) was positively correlated with temperature and negatively correlated with rainfall during the growing period.
5. At elevated temperature, budburst and moth egg hatch were synchronized, but earlier. Late feeding larvae and larvae fed on leaves from trees grown at elevated temperature produced smaller pupae. Pupal mass was unaffected when caterpillars and trees were maintained together under the same conditions.
6. Delaying egg hatch in Tits, to simulate conditions at elevated spring temperatures, resulted in reduced chick mass, body size and fledging success. This occurred because the chicks were fed later and prey quality was poorer, because the peak of caterpillar biomass was missed.
7. We predict that moth reproductive output will be retained at elevated temperatures because both leaves and caterpillars develop faster. Brood size in birds may be reduced because they cannot lay early enough to coincide with the narrower peak of food abundance.