Avian reproduction in a Mediterranean context: contributions of ornithological research in Spain

Authors: Juan MORENO

Published: Volume 51(1), June 2004. Pages 51-70.

Language: English

Keywords: Breeding biology, brood parasitism, climate, geography, latitude, life history, Mediterranean, parasites, sexual selection and Spain.


Aims: To review the studies of avian breeding biology conducted by Spanish researchers in the last decades, emphasizing the Mediterranean aspects of avian reproduction. The main topics covered are life history evolution, sexual selection and host-parasite interactions, including brood parasitism.

Results and Conclusions: Avian breeding biology has been strongly influenced by the dominance in the literature of north temperate studies at least since David Lack. There is some evidence that studies of Mediterranean populations may bridge the life history gap between tropical and north temperate populations. Fecundity seems to be lower in the Mediterranean than farther north, while adult survival could be higher due to benign winter climates or shorter migration routes. Multi-broodedness may be more common and lead to reduced clutch sizes. Nest predation may also be higher and more similar to the tropics in the Mediterranean. Parasites may not be a secondary determinant of breeding success and adult survival, but exert a relentless selective pressure on breeding adaptations of Mediterranean birds. Thermal constraints imposed by hot and dry summers may affect the duration of breeding seasons, the number of broods and hatching asynchrony through effects of temperature at laying on egg viability. Spanish studies have revealed bizarre male displays of vigour as well as geographic variation in the sexual implications of some ornaments studied farther north. Parasite-mediated sexual selection could be stronger in Mediterranean populations. Spanish researchers have revealed a new model system in the study of brood parasitism, which has contributed an improved understanding about the intricacies of host-parasite behavioural interactions and about the speed and scale of evolutionary arm-races.

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