Indexed on: 25 Jan '17Published on: 25 Jan '17Published in: Journal of Animal Ecology
Predicting habitat quality is a major challenge for animals selecting a breeding patch, because it affects reproductive success. Breeding site selection may be based on previous experience, or on social information from the density and success of competitors with an earlier phenology. Variation in animal breeding phenology is often correlated with variation in habitat quality. Generally, animals breed earlier in high quality habitats that allow them to reach a nutritional threshold required for breeding earlier or avoid nest predation. In addition, habitat quality may affect phenological overlap between species and thereby interspecific competition. Therefore, we hypothesized that competitor breeding phenology can be used as social cue by settling migrants to locate high quality breeding sites. To test this hypothesis, we experimentally advanced and delayed hatching phenology of two resident tit species on the level of study plots and studied male and female settlement patterns of migratory pied flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca. The manipulations were assigned at random in two consecutive years, and treatments were swapped between years in sites that were used in both years. In both years, males settled in equal numbers across treatments, but later arriving females avoided pairing with males in delayed phenology plots. Moreover, male pairing probability declined strongly with arrival date on the breeding grounds. Our results demonstrate that competitor phenology may be used to assess habitat quality by settling migrants, but we cannot pinpoint the exact mechanism (e.g. resource quality, predation pressure, or competition) that has given rise to this pattern. In addition, we show that opposing selection pressures for arrival timing may give rise to different social information availabilities between sexes. We discuss our findings in the context of climate warming, social information use, and the evolution of protandry in migratory animals. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.