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A Theoretical Investigation of the Effect of Latitude on Avian Life Histories

1. Department of Mathematics, University of Bristol, University Walk, Bristol BS8 1TW, United Kingdom;2. Department of Evolutionary Zoology, University of Debrecen, Debrecen Egyetem tér 1., 4032, Hungary;3. School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1UG, United Kingdom;4. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544; and Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Schlossallee 2, 78315 Radolfzell, Germany

Tropical birds lay smaller clutches than birds breeding in temperate regions and care for their young for longer. We develop a model in which birds choose when and how often to breed and their clutch size, depending on their foraging ability and the food availability. The food supply is density dependent. Seasonal environments necessarily have a high food peak in summer; in winter, food levels drop below those characteristic of constant environments. A bird that cannot balance its energy needs during a week dies of starvation. If adult predation is negligible, birds in low seasonal environments are constrained by low food during breeding seasons, whereas birds in high seasonal environments die during the winter. Low food seasonality selects for small clutch sizes, long parental care times, greater age at first breeding, and high juvenile survival. The inclusion of adult predation has no major effect on any life‐history variables. However, increased nest predation reduces clutch size. The same trends with seasonality are also found in a version of the model that includes a condition variable. Our results show that seasonal changes in food supply are sufficient to explain the observed trends in clutch size, care times, and age at first breeding.