High atmospheric temperatures and 'ambient incubation' drive embryonic development and lead to earlier hatching in a passerine bird

Simon C. Griffith*, Mark C. Mainwaring, Enrico Sorato, Christa Beckmann

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    50 Citations (Scopus)
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    Tropical and subtropical species typically experience relatively high atmospheric temperatures during reproduction, and are subject to climate-related challenges that are largely unexplored, relative to more extensive work conducted in temperate regions. We studied the effects of high atmospheric and nest temperatures during reproduction in the zebra finch. We characterized the temperature within nests in a subtropical population of this species in relation to atmospheric temperature. Temperatures within nests frequently exceeded the level at which embryo’s develop optimally, even in the absence of parental incubation. We experimentally manipulated internal nest temperature to demonstrate that an average difference of 6°C in the nest temperature during the laying period reduced hatching time by an average of 3% of the total incubation time, owing to ‘ambient incubation’. Given the avian constraint of laying a single egg per day, the first eggs of a clutch are subject to prolonged effects of nest temperature relative to later laid eggs, potentially increasing hatching asynchrony. While birds may ameliorate the negative effects of ambient incubation on embryonic development by varying the location and design of their nests, high atmospheric temperatures are likely to constitute an important selective.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number150371
    Pages (from-to)1-15
    Number of pages15
    JournalRoyal Society Open Science
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2016

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2016. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • nest temperature
    • ambient incubation
    • nest architecture
    • nest microclimate
    • Taeniopygia guttata
    • zebra finch


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