No evidence for fitness signatures consistent with increasing trophic mismatch over 30 years in a population of European shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis

1. As temperatures rise, timing of reproduction is changing at different rates across trophic levels, potentially resulting in asynchrony between consumers and their resources. The match‐mismatch hypothesis (MMH) suggests that trophic asynchrony will have negative impacts on average productivity of consumers. It is also thought to lead to selection on timing of breeding, as the most asynchronous individuals will show the greatest reductions in fitness. 2. Using a 30‐year individual‐level data set of breeding phenology and success from a population of European shags on the Isle of May, Scotland, we tested a series of predictions consistent with the hypothesis that fitness impacts of trophic asynchrony are increasing. 3. These predictions quantified changes in average annual breeding success and strength of selection on timing of breeding, over time and in relation to rising sea surface temperature (SST) and diet composition. 4. Annual average (population) breeding success was negatively correlated with average lay date yet showed no trend over time, or in relation to increasing SST or the proportion of principal prey in the diet, as would be expected if trophic mismatch was increasing. At the individual level, we found evidence for stabilising selection and directional selection for earlier breeding, although the earliest birds were not the most productive. However, selection for earlier laying did not strengthen over time, or in relation to SST or slope of the seasonal shift in diet from principal to secondary prey. We found that the optimum lay date advanced by almost four weeks during the study, and that the population mean lay date tracked this shift. 5. Our results indicate that average performance correlates with absolute timing of breeding of the population, and there is selection for earlier laying at the individual level. However, we found no fitness signatures of a change in the impact of climate‐induced trophic mismatch, and evidence that shags are tracking long‐term shifts in optimum timing. This suggests that if asynchrony is present in this system, breeding success is not impacted. Our approach highlights the advantages of examining variation at both population and individual levels when assessing evidence for fitness impacts of trophic asynchrony.


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Authors: Keogan, Katharine, Lewis, Sue, Howells, Richard J., Newell, Mark A., Harris, Michael P., Burthe, Sarah, Phillips, Richard A., Wanless, Sarah, Phillimore, Albert B., Daunt, Francis

On this site: Richard Phillips
1 February, 2021
Journal of Animal Ecology / 90
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