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Predicting climate change impacts on population size requires detailed understanding of how climate influences key demographic rates, such as survival. This knowledge is frequently unavailable, even in well-studied taxa such as birds. In temperate regions, most research into climatic effects on annual survival in resident passerines has focussed on winter temperature. Few studies have investigated potential precipitation effects and most assume little impact of breeding season weather. We use a 19-year capture–mark–recapture study to provide a rare empirical analysis of how variation in temperature and precipitation throughout the entire year influences adult annual survival in a temperate passerine, the long-tailed tit Aegithalos caudatus. We use model averaging to predict longer-term historical survival rates, and future survival until the year 2100. Our model explains 73% of the interannual variation in survival rates. In contrast to current theory, we find a strong precipitation effect and no effect of variation in winter weather on adult annual survival, which is correlated most strongly to breeding season (spring) weather. Warm springs and autumns increase annual survival, but wet springs reduce survival and alter the form of the relationship between spring temperature and annual survival. There is little evidence for density dependence across the observed variation in population size. Using our model to estimate historical survival rates indicates that recent spring warming has led to an upward trend in survival rates, which has probably contributed to the observed long-term increase in the UK long-tailed tit population. Future climate change is predicted to further increase survival, under a broad range of carbon emissions scenarios and probabilistic climate change outcomes, even if precipitation increases substantially. We demonstrate the importance of considering weather over the entire annual cycle, and of considering precipitation and temperature in combination, in order to develop robust predictive models of demographic responses to climate change.

Synthesis

Prediction of climate change impacts demands understanding of how climate influences key demographic rates. In our 19-year mark-recapture study of long-tailed tits Aegithalos caudatus, weather explained 73% of the inter-annual variation in adult survival; warm springs and autumns increased survival, wet springs reduced survival, but winter weather had little effect. Robust predictions thus require consideration of the entire annual cycle and should not focus solely on temperature. Unexpectedly, survival appeared not to be strongly density-dependent, so we use historical climate data to infer that recent climate change has enhanced survival over the four decades in which the UK long-tailed tit population has more than doubled. Furthermore, survival rates in this species are predicted to further increase under a wide range of future climate scenarios.