Physiological maturity at a critical life-history transition and flight ability at fledging

Allison Cornell, Kate F. Gibson, Tony D. Williams

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    20 Scopus citations


    Developmental maturity (e.g. body condition, body mass) at major life-history transitions is known to affect fitness across a wide range of taxa. Fledging (leaving the nest), a major life-history transition in birds, is associated with high post-fledging mortality and is widely assumed to be related to poor initial flight ability of fledglings, which, in turn, might be related to developmental maturity at fledging. We investigated individual variation in developmental maturity of both somatic and physiological traits at this critical life-history transition in different ecological contexts (year, first or second broods) to determine the importance of physiological traits related to oxygen-carrying capacity (haematocrit, haemoglobin) for individual variation in initial flight ability at fledging. Haemoglobin concentration and haematocrit at fledging had much higher variance than somatic traits and were more variable across ecological contexts. Furthermore, fledgling haemoglobin concentration was the least developmentally mature of all traits (on average, only 78% of adult concentration). Fledglings from second broods, which are known to have lower post-fledging survival, were less developmentally mature than fledglings from first broods for all traits (except tarsus), with haematocrit and haemoglobin concentration being the most developmentally immature traits (in first vs. second broods, haematocrit: 47·1% vs. 40·9%; haemoglobin: 13·3 vs. 11·6 g dL−1). Models predicting individual variation in two aspects of initial flight ability (total energy gain, take-off angle) were significantly improved when physiological traits (in particular haemoglobin) were incorporated into models based on somatic traits. A lay summary is available for this article.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)662-670
    Number of pages9
    JournalFunctional Ecology
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Mar 1 2017

    All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

    • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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