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Integr Comp Biol. 2009 Nov;49(5):563-79. doi: 10.1093/icb/icp037. Epub 2009 Jun 16.

Geographically distinct reproductive schedules in a changing world: Costly implications in captive Stonechats.

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  • 1Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Germany.

Abstract

With progressively faster global change, shifts in phenology, and distributional ranges are reported for an increasing number of species. The success of organisms at coping with novel seasonal conditions depends on the mechanisms that determine their schedules. Species that rely on fixed schedules and those that time their activities by predictive cues may be particularly constrained in their ability to accommodate changes. The present study examines rigid scheduling and its implications for breeding in captivity in an avian model taxon, the Stonechat (Saxicola torquata). Within their extensive breeding range, Stonechats differ geographically in migratory behavior and reproduce and molt under a wide range of daylengths (10-17 h). Stonechats time their activities by programs that involve circannual rhythms and photoperiodism. The study reports reproductive timing of four taxa (central European, Irish, Siberian, and Kenyan), relates it to laydates in the field, and investigates modifying influences of housing conditions and of social context. Reproductive consequences of timing programs were then tested by crossbreeding of taxa with different schedules. The study revealed persistent, population-specific breeding windows in captivity. Resident Stonechats from equatorial Kenya synchronized their reproductive cycles with the European summer, presumably in response to local photoperiod, and bred at similar times as northern migrants. In all other taxa schedules matched those in the field, but were timed slightly earlier in captivity and advanced by indoor keeping conditions. Influences of social context were negligible. In pairs with clutches, testes regressed slightly later than in pairs without clutches, but presence of a mate per se had no influence on breeding cycles. Accordingly, crossbreeding Stonechats were predicted to have limited capacity to adjust schedules to those of their mates. This prediction was tested by crossbreeding of single-clutched Siberian long-distance migrants with multiple-clutched European short-distance migrants. Males and females of both taxa retained their characteristic breeding schedules, regardless of their mate's activities. This led to dramatic loss of reproductive success in the population with the longer breeding season, European Stonechats. Siberian Stonechats were unable to profit from the presence of a sexually active mate, but they suffered no disadvantage from crossbreeding. In a changing world, inherited timing programs may severely constrain responses to novel conditions, impose schedule-dependent, asymmetric costs of hybridization, and contribute to directional gene flow or to reproductive isolation.

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