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Title: Exploring the causes and consequences of phenological change in a wild bird population
Author: Simmonds, Emily G.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7232 408X
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2017
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Changes in climate shape biological populations. They can alter spatial distributions, the timing of life history events, and even the species themselves. We are now experiencing a period of rapid directional climate change, alongside seasonal fluctuations. This thesis investigates temporal changes in life history events, phenology, as a climate response. I explore the causes and population level consequences of change in breeding phenology of two wild bird populations from Wytham Woods, UK. I test how great tits (Parus major) and blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) achieve temporal synchrony between the peak demands of their breeding and the peak abundance of their prey species (winter moth caterpillars - Operophtera brumata) in an inter-annually variable environment. I demonstrate great tit (Parus major) incubation behaviour fine-tunes the timing of hatching in response to ambient temperatures right up until hatching (Chapter two). Temperatures within the nest box, however, appear to play little role in the breeding phenology of blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) (Chapter two). I discuss the merits and limitations of statistical approaches for cue identification (Chapter six), finding the method and time period of data used both affect the cue identified and predictive accuracy. The second part of this thesis explores the influence of a directionally changing environment on great tit phenology. I use an integral projection model (IPM) to predict population dynamics over the 21st century, showing that if the cues used by both interacting species change sufficiently closely, temporal synchrony can be maintained through both phenotypic plasticity and micro-evolution (Chapter 5). However, if the cues diverge mismatch will arise (Chapter 5) causing population declines when certain thresholds are passed (Chapter 4). This work contributes to understanding how phenological synchrony is achieved, how it might change in the future, and its population impacts. In Wytham Woods it appears that great tits have a great deal of flexibility in multiple components of their breeding cycle, allowing them to retain synchrony with their caterpillar prey in a fluctuating environment. These birds are relatively resilient to negative phenological impacts from climate change. Only if the cues used by the predator and prey completely diverge do we predict consistent declines in population size during this century.
Supervisor: Cole, Ella ; Coulson, Tim ; Sheldon, Ben Sponsor: Natural Environment Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Climate change ; Population modelling ; Ecology ; Population dynamics ; Great tit ; Phenology