Burthe, S., Butler, A., Searle, K.R., Hall, S.J.G., Thackeray, S.J. and Wanless, S.
Journal of Animal Ecology 80(6), 1134-1144.
Seasonality, gestation, trophic mismatch, fitness consequences, climate change, Bos taurus, phenology
||1. Studies examining changes in the scheduling of breeding in response to climate change have focused on species with well-defined breeding seasons. Species exhibiting year-round breeding have received little attention and the magnitudes of any responses are unknown.
2. We investigated phenological data for an enclosed feral population of cattle (Bos taurus L.) in northern England exhibiting year-round breeding. This population is relatively free of human interference.
3. We assessed whether the timing of births had changed over the last 60 years, in response to increasing winter and spring temperatures, changes in herd density, and a regime of lime fertilisation.
4. Median birth date became earlier by 1.0 days per year. Analyses of the seasonal distribution of calving dates showed that significantly fewer calves were born in summer (decline from 44% of total births to 20%) and significantly more in winter (increase from 12% to 30%) over the study period. The most pronounced changes occurred in winter, with significant increases in both the proportion and number of births. Winter births arise from conceptions in the previous spring, and we considered models that investigated climate and weather variables associated with the winter preceding and the spring of conceptions.
5. The proportion of winter births was higher when the onset of the plant growing season was earlier during the spring of conceptions. This relationship was much weaker during years when the site had been fertilised with lime, suggesting that increased forage biomass was over-riding the impacts of changing plant phenology. When the onset of the growing season was late, winter births increased with female density.
6. Recruitment estimates from a stage-structured state-space population model were significantly negatively correlated with the proportion of births in the preceding winter, suggesting that calves born in winter are less likely to survive than those born in other seasons.
7. This is one of the first studies to document changes in the phenology of a year-round breeder, suggesting that the impact of climate on the scheduling of biological events may be more extensive than previously thought and that impacts may be negative, even for species with relatively flexible breeding strategies.