Individual optimization of reproduction in a long-lived migratory bird: a test of the condition-dependent model of laying date and clutch size

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Functional Ecology





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1. Optimality theory predicts that both timing of arrival and arrival state on the breeding area will determine reproductive timing and investment in migratory organisms. We tested this idea using a condition-dependent individual optimization model (Ardea68, 1980, 225 and The American Naturalist143, 1994, 698) in common eider ducks through descriptive data, path analyses and experimental manipulation. 2. Our results support the causal pathways drawn from the optimization model indicating that individuals adjust their reproductive decisions as a function of their arrival date and body condition at arrival. 3. Independent of body condition, early-arriving females had a longer pre-laying period, but still initiated their nests earlier, and produced larger clutches than late-arriving birds. Independent of arrival date, females in good condition laid earlier than those in poor condition. Manipulation of pre-laying female body condition confirmed that the relationship between condition and laying date was causal. 4. Female common eiders appear to optimize reproductive decisions in response to both their external (i.e. environmental conditions affecting the egg-value) and internal (i.e. body condition) states. These adjustments seem to minimize the fitness costs of reproduction, in which higher clutch size is not associated with an apparent lower survival or future breeding probability. 5. Our study emphasizes the importance of (i) simultaneously considering the timing of migration, the state of individuals and the seasonal change in egg-value to understand clearly birds’ breeding decisions and (ii) appreciating the potential proximate and ultimate factors explaining why some individuals delay breeding and/or produce small clutches.