• early conditions;
  • habitat selection;
  • lifetime reproductive success;
  • parental effects;
  • multistrata capture–recapture models


  • 1
    Long-term effects of conditions during early development on fitness are important for life history evolution and population ecology. Using multistrata mark–recapture models on 20 years of data, we quantified the relation between rearing conditions and lifetime fitness in a long-lived shorebird, the oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus). We addressed specifically the relative contribution of short- and long-term effects of rearing conditions to overall fitness consequences.
  • 2
    Rearing conditions were defined by differences in natal habitat quality, in which there is a clear dichotomy in our study population. In the first year of life, fledglings from high-quality natal origin had a 1·3 times higher juvenile survival. Later in life (age 3–11), individuals of high-quality natal origin had a 1·6 times higher adult prebreeder survival. The most striking effect of natal habitat quality was that birds that were reared on high-quality territories had a higher probability of settling in high-quality habitat (44% vs. 6%). Lifetime reproductive success of individuals born in high-quality habitat was 2·2 times higher than that of individuals born in low-quality habitat. This difference increased further when fitness was calculated over several generations, due to a correlation between the quality of rearing conditions of parents and their offspring.
  • 3
    Long-term effects of early conditions contributed more to overall fitness differences as short-term consequences, contrary to common conceptions on this issue.
  • 4
    This study illustrates that investigating only short-term effects of early conditions can lead to the large underestimation of fitness consequences. We discuss how long-term consequences of early conditions may affect settlement decisions and source–sink population interactions.