Black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) use temperature as a cue for reproductive timing
General and Comparative Endocrinology
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Reliable environmental cues, such as photoperiod, act as initial predictive cues that allow birds to time reproduction to match peak food abundance for their offspring. More variable local cues, like temperature, may, however, provide more precise information about the timing of food abundance. Non-migratory birds, in particular, should be sensitive to temperature cues and use them to modulate their reproductive timing. We conducted two experiments to examine the effect of temperature on reproductive condition (gonad size and circulating androgen levels) in non-migratory black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus). First, we exposed groups of birds in outdoor aviaries to three different over-winter temperature treatments and assessed gonad size in the spring. Second, we manipulated temperature in environmental chambers under photostimulatory and non-photostimulatory photoperiodic conditions and assessed gonad size and circulating testosterone levels. Temperature had no independent effect on gonad size or testosterone levels, but when photostimulated birds exposed to warmer conditions became reproductively ready earlier than birds experiencing cooler conditions. We conclude that temperature acts as a supplementary cue that modulates the photoperiod-driven timing of reproduction.