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Keywords:

  • birds;
  • laying date;
  • nestling growth;
  • selection;
  • synchrony

Abstract

Many bird species start laying their eggs earlier in response to increasing spring temperatures, but the causes of variation between and within species have not been fully explained. Moreover, synchronization of the nestling period with the food supply not only depends on first-egg dates but also on additional reproductive parameters including laying interruptions, incubation time and nestling growth rate. We studied the breeding cycle of two sympatric and closely related species, the blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus and the great tit Parus major in a rich oak-beech forest, and found that both advanced their mean first-egg dates by 11–12 days over the last three decades. In addition, the time from first egg to fledging has shortened by 2–3 days, through a decrease in laying interruptions, incubation time (not statistically significant) and nestling development time. This decrease is correlated with a gradual increase of temperatures during laying, suggesting a major effect of the reduction in laying interruptions. In both species, the occurrence of second clutches has strongly decreased over time. As a consequence, the average time of fledging (all broods combined) has advanced by 15.4 and 18.6 days for blue and great tits, respectively, and variance in fledging dates has decreased by 70–75%. Indirect estimates of the food peak suggest that both species have maintained synchronization with the food supply. We found consistent selection for large clutch size, early laying and short nest time (laying to fledging), but no consistent changes in selection over time. Analyses of within-individual variation show that most of the change can be explained by individual plasticity in laying date, fledging date and nest time. This study highlights the importance of studying all components of the reproductive cycle, including second clutches, in order to assess how natural populations respond to climate change.