, Volume 109, Issue 2, pp 200-208

The importance of food quantity and quality for reproductive performance in alpine water pipits (Anthus spinoletta)

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Abstract

Studies relating reproduction to food availability are usually restricted to food quantity, but ignore food quality and the effects of habitat structure on obtaining the food. This is particularly true for insectivorous birds. In this study we relate measures of reproductive success, time of reproduction and nestling size of water pipits (Anthus spinoletta) to biomass, taxonomic composition and nutritional content of available food, and to vegetation structure and distance to feeding sites. Clutch size was positively correlated with the proportion of grass at the feeding sites, which facilitates foraging. This suggests that water pipits adapt their clutch size to environmental conditions. Also, pipits started breeding earlier and produced more fledglings when abundant food and a large proportion of grass were available, probably because these conditions allow the birds to gain more energy in less time. The number of fledglings was positively correlated with the energy content of available food. No significant relationships were found between feeding conditions and nestling size or the time that nestlings took to fledge. This suggests that water pipits do not invest more in individual nestlings when food conditions are favourable but rather start breeding earlier and produce more young. Taxonomic composition and nutritional content of prey were not correlated with any of the reproductive parameters, indicating that profitability rather than quality of food affects reproductive success.
Received: 31 May 1996/Accepted: 12 August 1996