At the crossroads of physiology and ecology: Food supply and the timing of avian reproduction

Scott Davies, Pierre Deviche

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


The decision of when to breed is crucial to the reproductive success and fitness of seasonally breeding birds. The availability of food for adults prior to breeding has long been thought to play a critical role in timing the initiation of seasonal reproductive events, in particular laying. However, unequivocal evidence for such a role remains limited and the physiological mechanisms by which an increase in food availability results in seasonal activation of the reproductive system are largely speculative. This lack of mechanistic information partly reflects a lack of integration of ecological and physiological approaches to study seasonal reproduction. Indeed, most work pertaining to the role of food availability for adults on the timing of avian reproduction has been ecological and has focused almost exclusively on female traits associated with reproductive timing (e.g., lay date and clutch size). By contrast, most work on the physiological bases of the relationship between food availability and the timing of reproduction has investigated male traits associated with reproductive development (e.g., reproductive hormones and gonadal development). To advance our understanding of these topics, we review the role of proximate factors including food availability, social factors, and ambient temperature in the control of breeding decisions, and discuss the role of three potential candidates (leptin, glucocorticoids, and GnIH-neuropeptide Y) that may mediate the effects of food availability on these decisions. We emphasize that future progress in this area is heavily contingent upon the use of physiology-based approaches and their integration into current ecological frameworks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-55
Number of pages15
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • Clutch size
  • Corticosterone
  • Egg laying
  • Food restriction
  • Food supplementation
  • Glucocorticoids
  • GnIH
  • Leptin
  • NPY
  • Seasonal reproduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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