Droughts are expected to increase in frequency and severity with climate change. Population impacts of such harsh environmental events are theorized to vary with life history strategies among species. However, existing demographic models generally do not consider behavioural plasticity that may modify the impact of harsh events. Here we show that tropical songbirds in the New and Old Worlds reduced reproduction during drought, with greater reductions in species with higher average long-term survival. Large reductions in reproduction by longer-lived species were associated with higher survival during drought than predrought years in Malaysia, whereas shorter-lived species maintained reproduction and survival decreased. Behavioural strategies of longer-lived, but not shorter-lived, species mitigated the effect of increasing drought frequency on long-term population growth. Behavioural plasticity can buffer the impact of climate change on populations of some species and differences in plasticity among species related to their life histories are critical for predicting population trajectories.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Communications Biology Open Access 12 April 2023
Access Nature and 54 other Nature Portfolio journals
Get Nature+, our best-value online-access subscription
$29.99 / 30 days
cancel any time
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 12 print issues and online access
$209.00 per year
only $17.42 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Prices vary by article type
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
R code for population models are available in Dryad (https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.gf1vhhmm8).
Dai, A. Increasing drought under global warming in observations and models. Nat. Clim. Change 3, 52–58 (2013).
Cook, B. I., Smerdon, J. E., Seager, R. & Coats, S. Global warming and 21st century drying. Clim. Dynam. 43, 2607–2627 (2014).
Trenberth, K. E. et al. Global warming and changes in drought. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 17–22 (2014).
Webb, J. K., Brook, B. W. & Shine, R. What makes a species vulnerable to extinction? Comparative life‐history traits of two sympatric snakes. Ecol. Res. 17, 59–67 (2002).
Clark, M. E. & Martin, T. E. Modeling tradeoffs in avian life history traits and consequences for population growth. Ecol. Model. 209, 110–120 (2007).
MacArthur, R. H. & Wilson, E. O. The Theory of Island Biogeography (Princeton Univ. Press, 1967).
Bennett, P. M. & Owens, I. P. F. Variation in extinction risk among birds: chance or evolutionary predisposition? Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 264, 401–408 (1997).
Pfister, C. A. Patterns of variance in stage-structured populations: evolutionary predictions and ecological implications. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 95, 213–218 (1998).
Nelson, R. J. Simulated drought affect male reproductive function in deer mice (Permoyscus maniculatus bairdii). Phys. Zool. 66, 99–114 (1993).
Winne, C. T., Willson, J. D. & Gibbons, J. W. Income breeding allows an aquatic snake Seminatrix pygaea to reproduce normally following prolonged drought-induced aestivation. J. Anim. Ecol. 75, 1352–1360 (2006).
Boag, P. T. & Grant, P. R. Intense natural selection in a population of Darwin’s finches (Geospizinae) in the Galapagos. Science 214, 82–85 (1981).
Grant, P. R., Grant, B. R., Keller, L. F. & Petren, K. Effect of El Niño events on Darwin’s finch productivity. Ecology 81, 2442–2457 (2000).
Cruz-McDonnell, K. K. & Wolf, B. O. Rapid warming and drought negatively impact population size and reproductive dynamics of an avian predator in the arid southwest. Glob. Change Biol. 22, 237–253 (2016).
Sperry, J. H. & Weatherhead, P. J. Prey-mediated effects of drought on condition and survival in a terrestrial snake. Ecology 89, 2770–2776 (2008).
Allen, C. D. et al. A global overview of drought and heat-induced tree mortality reveals emerging climate change risks for forests. For. Ecol. Manage. 259, 660–684 (2010).
Calow, P. The cost of reproduction—a physiological approach. Biol. Rev. 54, 23–40 (1979).
Reznick, D. Costs of reproduction: an evaluation of the empirical evidence. Oikos 44, 257–267 (1985).
Flatt, T. Survival costs of reproduction in Drosophila. Exp. Geron. 46, 369–375 (2011).
Forbes, M. R. L., Clark, R. G., Weatherhead, P. J. & Armstrong, T. Risk-taking by female ducks: intra- and interspecific tests of nest defense theory. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 34, 79–85 (1994).
Ghalambor, C. K. & Martin, T. E. Fecundity-survival trade-offs and parental risk-taking in birds. Science 292, 494–497 (2001).
Møller, A. P. & Liang, W. Tropical birds take small risks. Behav. Ecol. 24, 267–272 (2012).
Deutsch, C. A. et al. Impacts of climate warming on terrestrial ectotherms across latitude. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 6668–6672 (2008).
Tewksbury, J. J., Huey, R. B. & Deutsch, C. A. Putting the heat on tropical animals. Science 320, 1296–1297 (2008).
Martin, T. E., Riordan, M. M., Repin, R., Mouton, J. C. & Blake, W. M. Apparent annual survival estimates of tropical songbirds better reflect life history variation when based on intensive field methods. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 26, 1386–1397 (2017).
Martin, T. E. Age-related mortality explains life history strategies of tropical and temperate songbirds. Science 349, 966–970 (2015).
Martin, T. E., Oteyza, J. C., Boyce, A. J., Lloyd, P. & Ton, R. Adult mortality probability and nest predation rates explain parental effort in warming eggs with consequences for embryonic development time. Am. Nat. 186, 223–236 (2015).
Arslan, N. Ş. & Martin, T. E. Reproductive biology of Grey-breasted Wood-Wren (Henicorhina leucophrys): a comparative study of tropical and temperate wrens. Wilson J. Ornithol. 131, 1–11 (2019).
Stutchbury, B. J. & Morton, E. S. Behavioral Ecology of Tropical Birds Ch. 5 (Academic Press, 2001).
Collar, N. in Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive (eds del Hoyo, J. et al.) (Lynx Edicions, 2019); https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.borwht1.01
Caswell, H. Matrix Population Models: Construction, Analysis, and Interpretation (Sinauer, 2001).
Wisdom, M. J., Mills, L. S. & Doak, D. F. Life stage simulation analysis: estimating vital-rate effects on population growth for conservation. Ecology 81, 628–641 (2000).
Muñoz, A. P., Kéry, M., Martins, P. V. & Ferraz, G. Age effects on survival of Amazon forest birds and the latitudinal gradient in bird survival. Auk 135, 299–313 (2018).
Lloyd, P. & Martin, T. E. Fledgling survival increases with development time and adult survival across north and south temperate zones. Ibis 158, 135–143 (2016).
Ropelewski, C. F. & Jones, P. D. An extension of the Tahiti-Darwin Southern Oscillation Index. Mon. Weather Rev. 115, 2161–2165 (1987).
Aiba, S. I. & Kitayama, K. Effects of the 1997–98 El Nino drought on rain forests of Mount Kinabalu, Borneo. J. Trop. Ecol. 18, 215–230 (2002).
Hirshfield, M. F. & Tinkle, D. W. Natural selection and the evolution of reproductive effort. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 72, 2227–2231 (1975).
Martin, T. E., Ton, R. & Oteyza, J. C. Adaptive influence of extrinsic and intrinsic factors on variation of incubation periods among tropical and temperate passerines. Auk 135, 101–113 (2018).
Wilmers, C. C. & Post, E. Predicting the influence of wolf-provided carrion on scavenger community dynamics under climate change scenarios. Glob. Change Biol. 12, 403–409 (2006).
Lenssen, N. et al. Improvements in the GISTEMP uncertainty model. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 124, 6307–6326 (2019).
IPCC Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) 1311–1393 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).
Taylor, I. H. et al. The impact of climate mitigation on projections of future drought. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 17, 2339–2358 (2013).
Kitayama, K. An altitudinal transect study of the vegetation on Mount Kinabalu, Borneo. Vegetation 102, 149–171 (1992).
Blake, J. G. & Loiselle, B. A. Enigmatic declines in bird numbers in lowland forest of eastern Ecuador may be a consequence of climate change. Peer J. 3, e1177 (2015).
Mitchell, A. E., Tuh, F. & Martin, T. E. Breeding biology of an endemic Bornean turdid, the Fruithunter (Chlamydochaera jefferyi), and life history comparisons with Turdus species of the world. Wilson J. Ornithol. 129, 36–45 (2017).
White, G. C. & Burnham, K. P. Program MARK: survival estimation from populations of marked animals. Bird Study 46, 120–139 (1999).
Shaffer, T. L. A unified approach to analyzing nest success. Auk 121, 526–540 (2004).
Burnham, K. P. & Anderson, D. R. Model Selection and Multimodel Inference: A Practical Information–Theoretic Approach (Springer-Verlag, 2002).
Pradel, R., Hines, J. E., Lebreton, J. D. & Nichols, J. D. Capture–recapture survival models taking account of transients. Biometrics 53, 60–72 (1997).
Burnham, K. P., Anderson, D. R., White, G. C., Brownie, C. & Pollock, K. H. Design and Analysis Methods for Fish Survival Experiments Based on Release–recapture (Amer Fisheries Society, 1987).
Felsenstein, J. Phylogenies and the comparative method. Am. Nat. 125, 1–15 (1985).
Orme, D. The caper package: comparative analysis of phylogenetics and evolution in R. R package version 3.5.0 http://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/caper/vignettes/caper.pdf (2013).
Jetz, W., Thomas, G. H., Joy, J. B., Hartmann, K. & Mooers, A. O. The global diversity of birds in space and time. Nature 491, 444–448 (2012).
Hackett, S. J. et al. A phylogenomic study of birds reveals their evolutionary history. Science 320, 1763–1768 (2008).
Maddison, W. P. & Maddison, D. R. Mesquite: a modular system for evolutionary analysis. R package version 2.75 http://mesquiteproject.org (2011).
Pagel, M. D. A method for the analysis of comparative data. J. Theor. Biol. 156, 431–442 (1992).
Symonds, M. R. & Blomberg, S. P. in Modern Phylogenetic Comparative Methods and their Application in Evolutionary Biology (eds Garamszegi, L. Z.) Ch. 5 (Springer, 2014).
Bates, D., Maechler, M., Bolker, B. & Walker, S. Fitting linear mixed-effects models using lme4. J. Stat. Softw. 67, 1–48 (2015).
We appreciate helpful comments from J. Brodie, C. Conway, B. Heidinger, L. S. Mills and our laboratory on the manuscript. We are grateful to C. Armstad and numerous field assistants for help collecting data for this study. We are grateful to S. Williams for advice on survival analyses and to Sabah Parks and the Sabah Biodiversity Centre in Malaysia and C. Bosque, INPARQUES and Fonacit in Venezuela for logistical support. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (Graduate Research Fellowship and grant nos. DEB-1701672 to J.C.M.; DEB-1241041, DEB-1651283 and IOS-1656120 to T.E.M.) and the Drollinger Family Charitable Foundation. This work was conducted under University of Montana IACUC no. 059-10TMMCWRU. Any use of trade, firm or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Peter Grant and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Species from the Venezuela site are depicted blue and species from the Malaysia site are depicted in orange. Abbreviations based on scientific names in parentheses are the eight species used for population simulation analyses, and include long-lived in red, short-lived in blue, and wet-habitat species in yellow-green.
Extended Data Fig. 2 Linear mixed model analyses of reproductive output in drought versus non-drought years.
Differences in clutch size and number of young that fledged (left the nest) were compared between drought versus non-drought years, while including species and year as random factors.
About this article
Cite this article
Martin, T.E., Mouton, J.C. Longer-lived tropical songbirds reduce breeding activity as they buffer impacts of drought. Nat. Clim. Chang. 10, 953–958 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0864-3
This article is cited by
Communications Biology (2023)
Nature Climate Change (2020)