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Coping with uncertainty: breeding adjustments to an unpredictable environment in an opportunistic raptor

AuthorsSergio, Fabrizio ; Blas, Julio ; López, Lidia; Tanferna, Alessandro; Díaz-Delgado, Ricardo ; Donázar, José A. ; Hiraldo, F.
KeywordsBrood reduction
Environmental uncertainty
Resource Xuctuations
Issue DateMay-2011
CitationOecologia (2011) 166:79–90
AbstractNo environment is truly constant in time. As a result, animals have evolved multiple adjustments to cope with such fluctuations. However, the allocation of ffort to costly activities that imply long-term commitments, such as breeding, may be extremely challenging when future resources change constantly and unpredictably, a context that has received little investigation. To fill this gap, we studied the breeding response by a wetland-dependent raptor, the black kite Milvus migrans, to within and between-years fluctuations in resource availability (inunda- tion levels). The breeding performance of the population was decomposed into reproductive components expressed in a sequence of successive tasks along the breeding cycle (e.g. timing of laying, clutch size, hatching success, brood reduction). Variation in each component was related to resource levels observed at different key dates of the season in order to test whether and when population-level reproduction was adjusted to available resources. Along a 22-year time-series, inundation levels fluctuated unpredictably within and among years, and mostly affected the later components of kites’ reproduction, such as hatching success and the incidence of brood reduction, which were the main determinants of the population yearly breeding output. Results were consistent with multiple adjustments to cope with uncertainty. As the season progressed and resources became easier to assess, a bet-hedging waiting strategy based on a conservatively small, invariant and asynchronous clutch gave way to real-time resource-track- ing mechanisms mediated by progressive adjustments to current prey availability, so that population-level breeding rates were determined and tuned to resources rather late in the season. Such adjustments were the likely outcome of the interaction between parental tactics and environmental constraints. Behavioural flexibility, such as dietary opportunism, probably promoted further resistance to resource oscillations. Given that all ecosystems show some degree of unpredictability, resource-tracking adjustments, such as the ones depicted here, are likely to be commonplace in most communities.
Publisher version (URL)http://www.springerlink.com/content/8713856722715ku1/fulltext.pdf
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