Causes of evolved differences in clutch size among songbird species remain debated. I propose a new conceptual framework that integrates aspects of traditional life history theory, while including novel elements, to explain evolution of clutch size among songbirds. I review evidence that selection by nest predation on length of time that offspring develop in the nest creates a gradient in offspring characteristics at nest-leaving (fledging), including flight mobility, spatial dispersion, and self-feeding rate. I postulate that this gradient has consequences for offspring mortality rates and parental energy expenditure per offspring. These consequences then determine how reproductive effort is partitioned among offspring, while reproductive effort evolves from age-specific mortality effects. Using data from a long-term site in Arizona, as well as from the literature, I provide support for hypothesized relationships. Nestling development period consistently explains fledgling mortality, energy expenditure per offspring, and clutch size while accounting for reproductive effort (i.e., total energy expenditure) to thereby support the framework. Tests in this paper are not definitive, but they document previously unrecognized relationships and address diverse traits (developmental strategies, parental care strategies, energy requirements per offspring, evolution of reproductive effort, clutch size) that justify further investigations of hypotheses proposed here.
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A conceptual framework for clutch size evolution in songbirds