Variation in a sparrow's reproductive success with rainfall: food and predator-mediated processes
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From 1997 to 1999, we monitored the reproductive success of individual rufous-crowned sparrows (Aimophila ruficeps) in coastal sage scrub habitat of southern California, USA. Annual reproductive output of this ground-nesting species varied strongly with annual variation in rainfall, attributed to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. Birds fledged 3.0 young per breeding pair in 1997, when rainfall was near the long-term mean, 5.1 offspring per pair in 1998, a wet El Niño year, and 0.8 fledglings per pair in 1999, a dry La Niña year. Variation in many components of reproductive output was consistent with the hypothesis that food availability was positively correlated with rainfall. However, the factor most responsible for the high reproductive output in 1998 was low early season nest predation which, combined with favorable nesting conditions, enabled more pairs to multiple-brood. Cool, rainy El Niño conditions may have altered the activity of snakes, the main predator of these nests, in the early season of 1998. Overall, more of the annual variation in fecundity was attributable to variation in within-season components of reproductive output (mean number of nests fledged per pair) than to within-nest components (mean brood size). Annual variation in rufous-crowned sparrow fecundity appears to be driven primarily by food resource-mediated processes in La Niña years and by predator-mediated processes in El Niño years.
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