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Keywords:

  • climate change;
  • latitudinal gradient;
  • rainfall;
  • snowmelt

Understanding the effects of climate on avian life history traits is essential if we wish to predict the demographic consequences of expected climatic changes. We investigated the influence of weather conditions on the reproductive success of Rock Ptarmigan Lagopus muta in the eastern French Pyrenees, one of the southernmost areas inhabited by the species. Reproductive success was estimated in early August between 1997 and 2006 by counting adults and well-grown chicks with pointing dogs. The number of young per adult varied from 0.08 to 0.72. Using Poisson regression and Akaike's information criterion, we selected the best model explaining the effect of weather (date of snowmelt and, for both laying/incubation and post-hatching periods, mean minimum and maximum temperatures, monthly rainfall and number of days with rain) on the proportion of young in August. Reproductive success was positively associated with early appearance of snow-free ground, and date of snowmelt alone was the model that best explained annual variation in reproductive success. Other models, which included a negative effect of rainfall, particularly after hatching, also had some support. Hence, both pre-laying and post-hatching weather conditions influenced reproductive success of Rock Ptarmigan in the eastern French Pyrenees. On a continental scale, reproductive success of alpine populations of Rock Ptarmigan is consistently lower than that of northern populations. This difference in productivity may be partly correlated with climatic conditions observed along an arctic–alpine gradient, the amount and variation of rainfall being greater in southern alpine areas than elsewhere in the species’ range.