Phenotypic plasticity is an important mechanism by which an individual can adapt its seasonal timing to predictable, short-term environmental changes by using predictive cues. Identification of these cues is crucial to forecast the response of species to long-term environmental change and to study their potential to adapt. Individual great tits (Parus major) start reproduction early under warmer conditions in the wild, but whether this effect is causal is not well known. We housed 36 pairs of great tits in climate-controlled aviaries and 40 pairs in outdoor aviaries, where they bred under artificial contrasting temperature treatments or in semi-natural conditions, respectively, for two consecutive years, using birds from lines selected for early and late egg laying. We thus obtained laying dates in two different thermal environments for each female. Females bred earlier under warmer conditions in climate-controlled aviaries, but not in outdoor aviaries. The latter was inconsistent with laying dates from our wild population. Further, early selection line females initiated egg laying consistently 9 days earlier than late selection line females in outdoor aviaries, but we found no difference in the degree of plasticity (i.e. the sensitivity to temperature) in laying date between selection lines. Because we found that temperature causally affects laying date, climate change will lead to earlier laying. This advancement is, however, unlikely to be sufficient, thereby leading to selection for earlier laying. Our results suggest that natural selection may lead to a change in mean phenotype, but not to a change in the sensitivity of laying dates to temperature.
Verhagen, I., Tomotani, B. M., Gienapp, P., & Visser, M. E. (2020). Temperature has a causal and plastic effect on timing of breeding in a small songbird. Journal of Experimental Biology, 223(8), [ jeb218784]. https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.218784