In seasonal environments, organisms use biotic and abiotic cues to time various biological processes that are crucial for growth, survival and reproductive success. Photoperiod is the best-known cue used to regulate gonadal development, migration and moult of many animal species. In birds, the relationship between photoperiod and gonadal development is clearly established, but we have little understanding on whether photoperiod also regulates actual timing of egg laying under natural conditions. Elucidating the link between photoperiod and timing of breeding is however key to understand whether an evolutionary change in sensitivity to photoperiod is a possible mechanism through which organisms could adjust their seasonal timing in response to climate warming. Here, we investigated the causal relationship between photoperiod, gonadal growth and laying date in wild female great tits. We experimentally increased the photoperiod perceived by the birds in spring by clipping head feathers, and we subsequently monitored gonadal development in the lab and egg laying dates in the wild. We show that our manipulation increased the photoperiod perceived by the birds to a level that approximately corresponds to an advancement of ten calendar days. This increase in perceived photoperiod led to an acceleration of gonadal development, but not to an advancement of egg laying dates. Our results indicate that photoperiod sensitivity is not constraining the advancement of laying date under current environmental conditions and suggest that evolution of sensitivity to other supplementary cues is necessary to advance reproduction under global warming.
|Date made available||30 Sept 2019|