Latitudinal and seasonal patterns in clutch size of some single-brooded British birds

Karl L. Evans, David I. Leech, Q. P Crick Humphrey, Jeremy Greenwood, Kevin J. Gaston

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15 Citations (Scopus)


Capsule Daylength, rather than latitude, was found to be an important determinant of variation in clutch size. Aims To describe the nature of spatial and temporal variation in clutch size, and explore the ecological correlates of these patterns. Methods We tested the prediction that seasonal declines in clutch size will be greater at higher latitudes. The environmental variables focused on were the influence of daylength, plant productivity, seasonality (i.e. Ashmole's hypothesis) and physiological mechanisms that relate clutch size to ambient temperature. We used data from 1980 to 2003 on spatial variation in clutch size across Britain for single-brooded species, in which clutch size can be taken as a measure of annual reproductive investment. We included all seven species, from five families, with sufficient data in the British Trust for Ornithology's Nest Record Scheme. Results There are strong seasonal declines in clutch size but little evidence for latitudinal gradients in clutch size or in latitudinal gradients in the rate of seasonal clutch size decline. Of the environmental variables investigated, daylength had the most marked effect on clutch size; this was positive in diurnal species and negative in the one nocturnal species. Conclusions Although this study was confined to a relatively small latitudinal range of 8°, we found marked latitudinal gradients in a number of factors thought to drive spatial patterns in clutch size. Moreover, such variation is of sufficient magnitude to generate spatial patterns in other ecological variables in Britain. There is thus no simple explanation for the lack of a latitudinal gradient in clutch size. The results concerning daylength indicate that the time available for foraging is an important determinant of variation in clutch size.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-85
Number of pages11
JournalBird Study
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009
Externally publishedYes

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