Nestling growth rates in relation to food abundance and weather in the Arctic

JH Perez, Jesse S Krause, HE Chmura, Shae Bowman, M.a. Mcguigan, Ashley Asmus, Simone Meddle, Kathleen Hunt, L Gough, N. T. Boelman, J. C. Wingfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Raising nestlings to fledging is energetically demanding for songbirds, requiring parents to balance several major tradeoffs. Nestling growth rates are highly susceptible to variation in environmental conditions and parental investment; highly variable environments with short breeding seasons such as the Arctic magnify these tradeoffs. Arctic nesting passerines provide a good model system in which to explore variation within and between species in growth rates with regards to environmental conditions and the timing of clutch initiation. Here we investigated inter-annual and inter-species variation in nestling mass gain for two species of arctic-breeding passerine: Gambel’s White-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii) and Lapland Longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus) across two years. The nestling period of 2014 was both colder (with lower minimum and maximum temperatures) and wetter (with 73% more rainfall) than 2013. Arthropod biomass was also reduced in shrub tundra in 2014 as compared to 2013. Both species showed reductions in rate of daily mass gain of nestlings in 2014 compared to 2013, but we observed no significant difference between species. Furthermore, we found that in 2014 early nesting birds had higher rates of nestling growth than those initiating clutches later in the season. These findings suggest that overall environmental conditions were more challenging for raising nestlings in 2014 as compared to 2013, and that these differences were manifested in a reduced rate of nestling mass gain in both species. Furthermore, both species showed a negative correlation between precipitation and growth rates, while only Lapland Longspurs showed a positive correlation between growth rates and temperature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-272
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 2016


  • arthropods
  • environment
  • temperature
  • clutch timing
  • climate change
  • phenology
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Lapland Longspur


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