, Volume 85, Issue 2, pp 266-270

Ecophysiological aspects of rapid population growth in a novel migratory blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla ) population: an experimental approach

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Summary

Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) that breed in central Europe have usually migrated to Mediterranean or African wintering grounds. In the past several decades, a portion of this breeding population has started migrating to the British Isles to overwinter and this population has increased dramatically. Several factors, including higher annual survivorship (due to supplemental feeding and reduced migratiry distance), assortative mating, and enhanced reproductive success may be involved in this rapid population growth. As part of an intensive, long-term study of this population, we tested the hypothesis that the differences in photoperiod experienced by British-wintering versus Mediterranean-wintering blackcaps might lead to relatively early vernal (i.e., migratory and/or reproductive) physiological condition in members of the former group. We found that birds exposed to photoperiodic conditions that simulated migration to Britain to overwinter generally initiated vernal migratory activity earlier than birds held under conditions simulating migration to traditional wintering areas in central Spain. This difference, coupled with the shorter migratory distance to the British Isles, leads to significantly earlier estimated arrival dates for blackcaps that winter in Britain compared to central Spain. Bimodality in arrival times suggests that assortative mating on central European breeding grounds might occur between members of the different wintering populations. Males exposed to British-winter photoperiods showed significantly earlier testicular development than males kept under Spanish-winter photoperiods. Early arrival on the breeding grounds, coupled with accelerated reproductive condition, should lead to a relatively early reproductive effort, perhaps increasing average reproductive success. In general, these results support the hypothesis that differences in photoperiod on the wintering grounds may play an important role in the dynamic state of this population.