Marked reduction in demographic rates and reduced fitness advantage for early breeding is not linked to reduced thermal matching of breeding time
Warmer springs may cause animals to become mistimed if advances of spring timing, including available resources and of timing of breeding occur at different speed. We used thermal sums (cumulative sum of degree days) during spring to describe the thermal progression (timing) of spring and investigate its relationship to breeding phenology and demography of a long-distant migrant bird, the northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe L.). We first compare 20-year trends in spring timing, breeding time, selection for breeding time, and annual demographic rates. We then explicitly test whether annual variation in selection for breeding time and demographic rates associates with the degree of phenological matching between breeding time and thermal progression of spring. Both thermal progression of spring and breeding time of wheatears advanced in time during the study period. But despite breeding on average 7 days earlier with respect to date, wheatears bred about 4 days later with respect to thermal spring progression. Over the same time period, selection for breeding time changed from distinct within-season advantage of breeding early to no or very weak advantage. Furthermore, demographic rates (nest success, fledgling production, recruitment, adult survival) and nestling weight declined markedly by 16%–79%. Those temporal trends suggest that a reduced degree of phenological matching may affect within-season fitness advantage of early breeding and population demographic rates. In contrast, when we investigate links based on annual variation, we find no significant relationship between either demographic rates or fitness advantage of early breeding with annual variation in the degree of phenological matching. Our results show that corresponding temporal trends in phenological matching, selection for breeding time and demographic rates are inconclusive evidence for demographic effects of changed phenological matching. Instead, we suggest that the trends in selection for breeding time and demographic rates are due to a general deterioration of the breeding environment.