Our understanding of life history evolution has benefited from debates regarding the underlying causes, and geographic ubiquity, of spatial patterns in avian clutch sizes. Past studies have revealed that birds lay smaller clutch sizes at higher elevation. However, in most previous studies, investigators have failed to adequately control for elevational differences in breeding phenology. To better understand the elevational gradient in avian clutch size, we need to know how clutch size changes across the entire elevational breeding range of a species (i.e., the shape of the relationship between elevation and clutch size), and whether the elevational gradient in clutch size is merely an artifact of elevational gradients in breeding phenology or breeding season length. We examined the relationship between breeding elevation and clutch size of Red-faced Warblers (Cardellina rubrifrons) along a 1000-m elevational gradient in Arizona. Our objectives were to determine how clutch size changed with elevation, and if the relationship between clutch size and elevation merely reflected elevational changes in breeding season length or phenology. The proportion of 5-egg clutches decreased and the proportion of 3- and 4-egg clutches increased non-linearly with increasing elevation, even after controlling for the elevational gradient in nest initiation date. Thus, average clutch size declined across the elevational breeding range of Red-faced Warblers, but this decline was not due to elevational variation in breeding phenology. Timing of breeding changed, but the duration of the breeding season did not change appreciably across the elevational gradient. Hence, elevational differences in breeding season length or breeding phenology cannot explain why Red-faced Warblers (and perhaps other birds) breeding at higher elevations have smaller clutches.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Elevational gradient in clutch size of Red-faced Warblers|
|Series title||Journal of Field Ornithology|
|Contributing office(s)||Coop Res Unit Seattle|