Plasticity in laying dates of Canada Geese in response to spring phenology
Observed phenological changes can be explained either by individual phenotypic plasticity or by evolutionary changes, but there is more evidence pointing towards phenotypic plasticity to explain the mechanism behind changes in bird phenology. However, most studies on phenology have been conducted on insectivorous bird species for which breeding is closely tied to temperature and insect emergence. In this study, we examined the consequences of climatic conditions on the nesting phenology of temperate breeding Canada Geese Branta canadensis maxima, which rely on a continuous food supply, during a 14-year period (2003–16). We determined whether laying dates were plastically adjusted to spring environmental conditions, and whether this adjustment resulted in a laying date advancement. We further estimated the strength and shape of selection acting on breeding timing, by looking at the effect of laying date on the relative number of young successfully hatched in a nest. We found that Geese plastically adjusted their laying date to spring maximum temperature (and not to precipitation or ice break-up), resulting in a 9-day advancement of laying date in the population for that period. Laying date was also moderately repeatable (r = 0.23) and subject to directional selection, but stabilizing selection was negligible. We thus demonstrate how Canada Geese plastically adjust laying dates to temperature, which may further be beneficial to nesting success. Evolutionary change of laying date to selection related to climate change, however, is still possible.