Variation in fitness between individuals in populations may be attributed to differing environmental conditions experienced among birth (or hatch) years (i.e., between cohorts). In this study, we tested whether cohort fitness could also be explained by environmental conditions experienced in years post-hatch, using 736 lifelong resighting histories of Greenland white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons flavirostris) marked in their first winter. Specifically, we tested whether variation in age at first successful reproduction, the size of the first successful brood and the proportion of successful breeders by cohort was explained by environmental conditions experienced on breeding areas in west Greenland during hatch year, those in adulthood prior to successful reproduction and those in the year of successful reproduction, using North Atlantic Oscillation indices as proxies for environmental conditions during these periods. Fiftynine (8%) of all marked birds reproduced successfully (i.e., were observed on wintering areas with young) only once in their lifetime and 15 (2%) reproduced successfully twice or thrice. Variation in age at first successful reproduction was explained by the environmental conditions experienced during adulthood in the years prior to successful reproduction. Birds bred earliest (mean age 4) when environmental conditions were 'good' prior to the year of successful reproduction. Conversely, birds successfully reproduced at older ages (mean age 7) if they experienced adverse conditions prior to the year of successful reproduction. Hatch year conditions and an interaction between those experienced prior to and during the year of successful reproduction explained less (marginally significant) variation in age at first successful reproduction. Environmental conditions did not explain variation in the size of the first successful brood or the proportion of successful breeders. These findings show that conditions during adulthood prior to the year of successful reproduction are most important in determining the age at first successful reproduction in Greenland white-fronted geese. Very few birds bred successfully at all (most only once), which suggests that May environmental conditions on breeding areas have cohort effects that influence lifetime (and not just annual) reproductive success.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was funded through a joint PhD studentship from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and the University of Exeter, and undertaken by MD Weegman. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
- Age at first successful reproduction
- Cohort fitness
- Environmental stochasticity
- Greenland white-fronted geese
- North Atlantic Oscillation