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In many forest passerine bird species, rapid climate warming has led to a phenological mismatch between the period of maximum nestlings' food requirements and the period of maximum food availability (seasonal caterpillar biomass peak) due to an insufficient advancement of the birds' laying dates. The initiation of laying is preceded by the development of the gonads, which in birds are regressed outside the breeding season. Increasing day length in late winter and early spring triggers a cascade of hormones which induces gonadal development. Since day length is not altered by climate change, one potential restriction to advancing laying date is the seasonal timing of gonadal development. To assess the importance of gonadal growth for timing of reproduction we experimentally manipulated the timing of gonadal development. We show that the growth of the largest follicle of captive female great tits (Parus major) increased after being exposed to just a single long day in winter (20 hours of light followed by 4 hours darkness). We then photostimulated wild female great tits from two study areas in a field experiment in spring for a single day and determined their laying date. These populations differed in the availability of food allowing us to test if food availability in combination with photostimulation affected egg laying dates. Despite an expected difference in the onset of gonadal growth, laying dates of photostimulated females did not differ from control females in both populations. These results suggest that wild great tits are not restricted in the advancement of their laying date by limited gonadal development.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere35617
JournalPLoS One
Journal publication date2012

ID: 374897