Authors
  • Cox, Amelia
  • Robertson, Raleigh J.
  • Lendvai, Ádám Z.
  • Everitt, Kennedy
  • Bonier, Frances

Summary

As species shift their ranges and phenology to cope with climate change, many are left without a ready supply of their preferred food source during critical life stages. Food shortages are often assumed to be driven by reduced total food abundance, but here we propose that climate change may cause short-term food shortages for foraging specialists without affecting overall food availability. We frame this hypothesis around the special case of birds that forage on flying insects for whom effects mediated by their shared food resource have been proposed to cause avian aerial insectivores' decline worldwide. Flying insects are inactive during cold, wet or windy conditions, effectively reducing food availability to zero even if insect abundance remains otherwise unchanged. Using long-term monitoring data from a declining population of tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor), we show that nestlings’ body mass declined substantially from 1977 to 2017. In 2017, nestlings had lower body mass if it rained during the preceding 3 days, though females increased provisioning rates, potentially in an attempt to compensate. Adult body mass, particularly that of the males, has also declined over the long-term study. Mean rainfall during the nestling period has increased by 9.3 ± 0.3 mm decade−1, potentially explaining declining nestling body mass and population declines. Therefore, we suggest that reduced food availability, distinct from food abundance, may be an important and previously overlooked consequence of climate change, which could be affecting populations of species that specialize on foraging on flying insects.

Location