, Volume 172, Issue 1, pp 279–291 | Cite as

Reduced compensatory growth capacity in mistimed broods of a migratory passerine

  • Gergely HegyiEmail author
  • Gergely Nagy
  • János Török
Global change ecology - Original research


Phenotypic plasticity has recently been proposed to increase population viability when rapid anthropogenic environmental changes cannot be tracked by means of evolution. This assumes that environmental changes do not constrain phenotypic plasticity itself, which has rarely been examined in natural populations. In areas of climate warming, many long-distance migratory birds breed increasingly late relative to the period of peak food supply, and the temporal mismatch may constrain plastic life-history traits such as nestling growth. We combined 23 years of food availability and breeding data with a 3-year experimental manipulation of nestling growth trajectories in a Central European population of collared flycatchers (Ficedula albicollis) to examine the potential impact of climate-related mistimed breeding on nestling developmental plasticity. Timing of the food peak was predicted by winter climate, and the median hatching date of broods was earlier in springs with earlier food peaks. However, the adjustment of hatching date was incomplete and the population largely missed the food peak in years with very early food peaks. After imposing a temporary, experimental food shortage on nestlings, the extent of compensatory growth in body mass differed among years, and this difference was apparently related to the distance of hatching dates from the yearly food peak. Growth compensation declined with distance from the peak. These results suggest that mistimed phenology may not only create permanently adverse conditions for migratory species but it may also constrain the plastic responses of individuals to temporary disturbances. Therefore, climate change may not only favour but also restrict phenotypic plasticity.


Body mass gain Breeding date Global warming Insect phenology Long-distance migrant 



We thank M. Herényi, M. Laczi, B. Rosivall and E. Szöllősi for help with the fieldwork. Supported by Országos Tudományos Kutatási Alapprogramok (Grants K75618 to J.T. and PD72117 and K101611 to G.H.), a Bolyai fellowship to G.H., the Erdők a Közjóért Alapítvány and the Pilis Park Forestry.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

442_2012_2487_MOESM1_ESM.doc (174 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 173 kb)


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Behavioural Ecology Group, Department of Systematic Zoology and EcologyEötvös Loránd UniversityBudapestHungary

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