CIE Spotlight: High atmospheric temperatures and ‘ambient incubation’ drive embryonic development and lead to earlier hatching in a passerine bird

Christa B.

Christa B.

Title: High atmospheric temperatures and ‘ambient incubation’ drive embryonic development and lead to earlier hatching in a passerine bird

Authors: Griffith, Simon C.; Mainwaring, Mark C.; Sorato, Enrico; Beckmann, Christa

Source: ROYAL SOCIETY OPEN SCIENCE, 3 (2), FEB 2016

Brief summary of the paper: Tropical and subtropical species typically experience relatively high atmospheric temperatures during reproduction, and are subject to climate-related challenges that are largely unexplored, relative to more extensive work conducted in temperate regions.

We studied the effects of high atmospheric and nest temperatures during reproduction in the zebra finch. We characterized the temperature within nests in a subtropical population of this species in relation to atmospheric temperature. Temperatures within nests frequently exceeded the level at which embryo’s develop optimally, even in the absence of parental incubation.

We experimentally manipulated internal nest temperature to demonstrate that an average difference of 6°C in the nest temperature during the laying period reduced hatching time by an average of 3% of the total incubation time, owing to ‘ambient incubation’. Given the avian constraint of laying a single egg per day, the first eggs of a clutch are subject to prolonged effects of nest temperature relative to later laid eggs, potentially increasing hatching asynchrony.

While birds may ameliorate the negative effects of ambient incubation on embryonic development by varying the location and design of their nests, high atmospheric temperatures are likely to constitute an important selective force on avian reproductive behaviour and physiology in subtropical and tropical regions, particularly in the light of predicted climate change that in many areas is leading to a higher frequency of hot days during the periods when birds breed.