Individual and demographic consequences of reduced body condition following repeated exposure to high temperatures

Janet L Gardner, Tatsuya Amano, William J Sutherland, Mark Clayton, Anne Peters

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46 Citations (Scopus)


Although the lethal consequences of extreme heat are increasingly reported in the literature, the fitness costs of exposure to sublethal high air temperatures, typically identified in the 30-40°C range, are poorly understood. We examine the effect of high (≥35°C) daily maxima on body condition of a semiarid population of White-plumed Honeyeaters, Ptilotula penicillatus, monitored between 1986 and 2012. During this 26-yr period, temperature has risen, on average, by 0.06°C each year at the site, the frequency of days with thermal maxima ≥35°C has increased and rainfall has declined. Exposure to high temperatures affected body condition of White-plumed Honeyeaters, but only in low-rainfall conditions. There was no effect of a single day of exposure to temperatures ≥35°C but repeated exposure was associated with reduced body condition: 3.0% reduction in body mass per day of exposure. Rainfall in the previous 30 d ameliorated these effects, with reduced condition evident only in dry conditions. Heat-exposed males with reduced body condition were less likely to be recaptured at the start of the following spring; they presumably died. Heat-exposed females, regardless of body condition, showed lower survival than exposed males, possibly due to their smaller body mass. The higher mortality of females and smaller males exposed to temperatures ≥35°C may have contributed to the increase in mean body size of this population over 23 years. Annual survival declined across time concomitant with increasing frequency of days ≥35°C and decreasing rainfall. Our study is one of few to identify a proximate cause of climate change related mortality, and associated long-term demographic consequence. Our results have broad implications for avian communities living in arid and semiarid regions of Australia, and other mid-latitudes regions where daily maximum temperatures already approach physiological limits in regions affected by both decreased precipitation and warming.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)786-795
Number of pages10
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Body condition
  • Climate change
  • Demographic change
  • Mechanism
  • Meliphagidae
  • Mortality
  • Semiarid
  • Sublethal temperatures
  • Temperature extremes
  • White-plumed Honeyeater

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