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Hatching asynchrony and brood reduction in Blue Tits Cyanistes caeruleus may be a plastic response to local oak Quercus robur bud burst and caterpillar emergence

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-09, 03:58 authored by Martyn J Stenning
Blue Tits exhibit extreme variation in clutch size and hatching asynchrony, which is the focus of this study. This paper reports an in-depth study of breeding Blue Tits showing that variation in Blue Tit hatching asynchrony can be explained by a number of phenological variables including particularly, date of bud burst in the local oak tree, which signals caterpillar emergence (34%), also date of first egg (14%) and female weight (8%). Hatching asynchrony explained 9% of the variation in brood mortality in this southern English population. Early incubation relative to clutch completion (incubation asynchrony) in Blue Tits explained 85% of the variation in hatching asynchrony, differs between years and advanced hatching in early and fledging in late laid eggs. Consequently, because fledging is usually synchronous, hatching asynchrony shortens the total time spent in the nest and explained 28% of the variation in nesting time from clutch completion to fledging. I present experimental evidence that brood reduction resulting from hatching asynchrony may be particularly adaptive towards the end of the breeding season, with 91% of the variation in the productivity of asynchronously-hatched broods being explained by, and increased with, date of hatching. About one fifth of birds delayed daytime incubation until after clutch completion, probably in wait for caterpillars to appear. Although the delay period was variable and extended total nesting time it always resulted in synchronous hatching. I propose that Blue Tits may have evolved plastic responses to environmental cues such as oak bud burst, which causes them to incubate at the optimum time to ensure maximum fledging success and chick fitness.


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Acta Ornithologica




Museum and Institute of Zoology





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  • Biology and Environmental Science Publications

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  • Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects Publications

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