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  1. Abstract

    The strategies by which animals allocate reproductive effort across their lifetimes vary, and the causes of variation in those strategies are actively debated. In birds, most research has focused heavily on variation in clutch size and fecundity, but incubation behaviour and other functionally related traits have received less attention. Variation in incubation period duration is notable because time‐dependent sources of clutch mortality should impose strong directional selection to minimize the incubation period. However, life‐history theory predicts multiple mechanisms by which inter‐ and intraspecific variation in incubation behaviours may be adaptive.

    We conducted one of the first studies of intraspecific latitudinal variation in avian incubation behaviours across a large portion of a single species’ range. We placed motion‐activated nest cameras inside burrowing owl nests at five study sites to quantify variation in daily nest attentiveness, cumulative nest attendance and incubation period duration. We tested predictions of two alterative hypotheses that have been proposed to explain variation in incubation periods: theparental risk tolerance hypothesisand theneonate quality hypothesis.

    Daily nest attentiveness, cumulative nest attendance and incubation period duration in burrowing owls were all positively correlated with latitude. Burrowing owls reduced their daily nest attentiveness at low latitudes and on days when the average nest temperature was within the range that is optimal for embryo development. Further, longer incubation periods were most strongly associated with greater cumulative nest attendance instead of reduced daily nest attentiveness.

    These results support predictions of theneonate quality hypothesis:longer incubation periods result from stronger selection on neonate quality rather than selection to reduce reproductive effort in response to low extrinsic mortality risk. However, some owls facultatively reduced their daily nest attentiveness, and this result supports the general hypothesis that incubation decisions reflect a trade‐off between reproduction and self‐maintenance, and that the optimal solution to that trade‐off varies systematically in response to latitudinal gradients in adult mortality.

    A freePlain Language Summarycan be found within the Supporting Information of this article.

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  2. Abstract

    Comparative studies, across and within taxa, have made important contributions to our understanding of the evolutionary processes that promote phenotypic diversity. Trait variation along geographic gradients provides a convenient heuristic for understanding what drives and maintains diversity. Intraspecific trait variation along latitudinal gradients is well‐known, but elevational variation in the same traits is rarely documented. Trait variation along continuous elevational gradients, however, provides compelling evidence that individuals within a breeding population may experience different selective pressures.

    Our objectives were to quantify variation in a suite of traits along a continuous elevational gradient, evaluate whether individuals in the population experience different selective pressures along that gradient and quantify variation in migratory tendency along that gradient.

    We examined variation in a suite of 14 life‐history, morphological and behavioural traits, including migratory tendency, of yellow‐eyed juncos along a continuous 1000‐m elevational gradient in the Santa Catalina Mountains of Arizona.

    Many traits we examined varied along the elevational gradient. Nest survival and nestling growth rates increased, while breeding season length, renesting propensity and adult survival declined, with increasing elevation. We documented the migratory phenotype of juncos (partial altitudinal migrants) and show that individual migratory tendency is higher among females than males and increases with breeding elevation.

    Our data support the paradigm that variation in breeding season length is a major selective pressure driving life‐history variation along elevational gradients and that individuals breeding at high elevation pursue strategies that favour offspring quality over offspring quantity. Furthermore, a negative association between adult survival and breeding elevation and a positive association between nest survival and breeding elevation help explain both the downslope and reciprocal upslope seasonal migratory movements that characterize altitudinal migration in many birds. Our results demonstrate how detailed studies of intraspecific variation in suites of traits along environmental gradients can lend new insights into the evolutionary processes that promote diversification and speciation, the causes of migratory behaviour, and how animal populations will likely respond to climate change.

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