To understand the consequences of anthropogenic and environmental changes for wildlife populations, it is important to study how individuals differ in their sensitivity to environmental change and whether this depends on individual characteristics. An individual's reproductive performance may provide an integrative, unidimensional proxy of an individual's characteristics. In this study, we define an individual's characteristics by three such reproductive states, namely successful, failed and non-breeders in the previous year. We used a 16-year dataset of individually marked breeding Eurasian Oystercatchers Haematopus ostralegus to examine the interannual fluctuations in reproductive success and survival among breeding states, and their state-dependent sensitivity to environmental conditions. Environmental conditions included available biomass of the main prey species of breeding Oystercatchers (Ragworm, Baltic Tellin and Lugworm), tidal height, which reflects one of the main causes of nest loss (flooding), and conditions that may impact the energetic requirements during incubation, such as temperature. We also included environmental variables measured in winter, including available biomass of the main winter prey species (Blue Mussel and Common Cockle) along with factors that may affect food availability and energetic requirements for homeostasis, namely bivalve weight loss, windchill, winter severity and precipitation. Breeding birds that were successful the previous year had higher survival and were more likely to remain successful, in comparison with failed or non-breeders. The effects of environmental conditions acted in the same direction on reproductive success but had opposite effects on survival among the three breeding states, especially for windchill and Blue Mussel biomass. The contrasting state-dependent effects of the environment on survival thus averaged out when examining consequences for lifetime reproductive nest success (LRnS); instead, LRnS was largely influenced by environmental conditions acting upon reproduction. Our study indicates that an individual's previous breeding state provides an integrative measure of heterogeneity in individuals' sensitivity of reproduction and survival to environmental change. Incorporating previous breeding state as a source of individual heterogeneity in population modelling may improve predictions of future population dynamics in a rapidly changing world.
- individual quality
- environmental change