Life history trade-offs between survival, moult and breeding in a tropical season environment
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The trade-off between current and future investment in reproduction lies at the heart of life history theory. The need to differentially allocate resources between these two options arises generally as a result of environmental pressures. Higher risk of mortality in adults is linked with increased investment in current reproduction, whereas the opposite is true where adults are long-lived (the r- K selection paradigm). Perhaps the most obvious factors influencing the environment stem from seasonality of the climate, since rainfall and temperature affect food availability, resulting in a higher risk of mortality. The available trade-offs that an organism can make will therefore be constrained by environmental variability potentially resulting in general adaptation and so ultimately influencing evolution of biome-specific life-history traits. In this thesis, I examine how the seasonality of a West African tropical savannah environment influences moult and breeding timing and duration, and survival in West African tropical savannah bird species. I show that moult in tropical birds follows the same basic descendant pattern through the wing feathers, but is a much lengthier process than for temperate species (mean = 131 ± 11 days, N = 29 species), and that it frequently overlaps with breeding activities. This suggests either that either the feathers of tropical species take longer to grow; that it is a relatively low-cost activity and has little influence on life history trade-offs; or that individuals further aim to reduce mortality risk by attempting to maintain high flight capability at all times. Breeding also occurred over a longer season than for temperate species, although an obvious peak in occurrence was identified to coincide with the food-abundant period of the late rains and early dry season. Lengthy breeding seasons may indicate an increased tendency to re-nest (possibly as a result of higher nest predation levels), and we also identified a prolonged immature plumage phase – potentially indicating an extended duration of parental care. Survival rates were calculated from mark-recapture models based on mist-netting data. Previous work has focussed on the use of incorporating mark-resighting data alongside that obtained by standard mark-recapture techniques. Here, I assess the models applied in those methods, identify problems associated with over-paramaterisation, goodness of fit and the generation of biologically unrealistic estimates, and so provide suggestions on how to improve the protocol. Average survival from my study (40 species: 0.63 ± 0.02) was higher than previous estimates obtained from this site and were comparable with estimates from other Afrotropical and Neotropical areas, although rates varied greatly between species. Juvenile survival (13 species) was similar or possibly lower than adult survival. I then used my empirically derived estimates of moult, breeding and survival life history traits to identify potential trade-offs between traits. Overall I was unable to identify significant relationships between any of the life history trait estimates, other than between adult survival and clutch size. In this, the results followed those of previous researchers in identifying a pattern of lower investment in current reproduction (clutch size) and maximisation of adult survival in tropical species. My study, however, demonstrates for the first time how moult and breeding duration are likely to be less constrained in tropical environments.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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