Early Life Events Carry over to Influence Pre-Migratory Condition in a Free-Living Songbird

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Animal migration, Birds, Bird song, Animal sexual behavior, Foraging, Cognitive impairment, Deuterium, Feathers


Conditions experienced during development can have long-term consequences for individual success. In migratory songbirds, the proximate mechanisms linking early life events and survival are not well understood because tracking individuals across stages of the annual cycle can be extremely challenging. In this paper, we first use a 13 year dataset to demonstrate a positive relationship between 1st year survival and nestling mass in migratory Savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis). We also use a brood manipulation experiment to show that nestlings from smaller broods have higher mass in the nest relative to individuals from larger broods. Having established these relationships, we then use three years of field data involving multiple captures of individuals throughout the pre-migratory period and a multi-level path model to examine the hypothesis that conditions during development limit survival during migration by affecting an individual's ability to accumulate sufficient lean tissue and fat mass prior to migration. We found a positive relationship between fat mass during the pre-migratory period (Sept–Oct) and nestling mass and a negative indirect relationship between pre-migratory fat mass and fledging date. Our results provide the first evidence that conditions during development limit survival during migration through their effect on fat stores. These results are particularly important given recent evidence showing that body condition of songbirds at fledging is affected by climate change and anthropogenic changes to landscape structure.

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